I was tabling in Red Square a few Marches back as a student at Georgetown. Red Square was a safe place for students to converge and share their heartfelt views via flyers, sidewalk chalk, and demonstrations. It was conveniently located in the almost-center of campus, trafficked by droves of undergraduate and graduate students day in and out. A ripe place to spread the word.
Alongside other Best Buddies participants, I was tabling to spread the word to end the derogatory use of the word "retard", a word that has become all too common, used to implying someone or something is less or flawed in our society. Joining other advocates of the Spread the Word to End the Word movement nationwide, we had a petition to be signed by passer-bys.
"I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."
While we were received rather positively overall and gathered many signatures, there is one encounter in particular that stands out in my memory. A man started to question us about his First Amendment Constitutional right to freedom of speech. He was outraged by this entreaty to end hateful language. I was a little younger then and likely more docile from what I can recall, but with the arrival of the R-Word's annual day of awareness (March 5, 2014), I am moved to offer my take on the matter yet again.
To the abrasive man from Red Square, I say...
We must not misconstrue a right for an obligation. We are indeed protected by the Constitution of the United States to speak as we wish, and to use whatever language we have the opportunity to use. After all, words are nothing but letters strung together in sequence. What is conveyed and implied by these words, however, affects other people. Rights are sacred, but need not be abused.
I have the rights to behave combatively, to spew hurtful speech, berate, and break down others if I want to. I have the ability to behave like an imbecile, to lie, steal, and cheat. A perversion of our Constitution can protect these behaviors as well. More important than rights is an obligation to be a decent human being. The right to do something in no way requires that behavior.
So yes, the man in Red Square can use the r-word if he lacks an alternative to use in it's place, but I would challenge him to consider the impact of his speech. To reflect on how the world will receive his words and challenge the ostracism of talented and vibrant individuals worldwide. I fell fervently that eliminating the use of the r-word will diminish the divide cast between populations of varying abilities. We will celebrate our differences rather than condemn them.
A takeaway. This video speaks to the courage of a spirited young boy with Down Syndrome. Fueled by his family's love, acceptance, and encouragement, Beau made it all the way to the Sundance Film Festival for his role in LITTLE ACCIDENTS . I don't know of many people who have achieved the same; I see nothing but abilities here. Do you?