Guest Post by Mo Taylor, MMT, MT-BC, RYT-200, and Yoga Buzz Teacher Training Graduate
Remember the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” While this is meant to help encourage people through times when others aren’t being so nice to them, it creates the illusion that the way words make us feel isn’t valid, that it shouldn’t bother us, we should be able to just ignore it and carry on with life. My goal is to shed some light on what respect looks like both on and off the yoga mat: what are different ways to show respect, how does respect differ from person to person, and do the things I’m saying and doing actually convey respect towards others?
The problem with that old adage is that words can and do hurt. Organizations such as “R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word” and Special Olympics (who Yoga Buzz partnered with last October here in St. Louis, which is where we met Krista in the photo above) are making efforts to bring awareness to using positive, people-first language. A person is so much more than just a diagnosis on paper and more than what may meet the eye.
Both of these organizations strive to eliminate one word from everyday vernacular: “Retarded” (just typing it makes me cringe). This excerpt from “R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word” website explains why:
“When they were originally introduced, the terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms, “retard” and “retarded” have been used widely in today’s society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.”
We should all be mindful that we might be using language that creates a negative effect without realizing it, on and OFF the mat.
The way in which the use of this word has changed is evidence of how words can and are used with the intent to hurt others, to marginalize groups of people, to make people feel less worthy. I’ve had students come to me crying because a peer used this word towards them; I’ve seen one of my happiest students be absolutely shattered and brought to inconsolable tears; I’ve seen the siblings of my students shut down and become sad at the mere idea of the word being used towards their brother or sister. As some of my current students, with and without disabilities told me, “It’s a bad word-it makes me unhappy,” “It’s not positive,” and “It’s offensive.”
WHAT YOU SAY MATTERS.
We should all be mindful that we might be using language that creates a negative effect without realizing it, on and off the mat, especially if it’s a regular part of our vocabulary we don’t pay much attention to regularly. One easy way to work towards showing more respect for those with disabilities and other special needs is to remove the “R” word from your vocabulary altogether. It may not be easy and it may take time, but making the conscious decision and effort to remove one word can make a difference.
My yoga practice teaches me to be fully present and conscious of my mind, body, spirit; my thoughts, words, and actions towards myself and others. I take this off the mat by being mindful of my words not only with myself, but with others. Here at Yoga Buzz, we make our effort through our trauma aware approach to yoga when choosing our language in classes. Elsewhere, I let other people know when they use harmful words (especially this one) and ask them to use a different term; I ask people to be a part of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” Campaign and pledge to make “Respect” and new “R-word.”
So I invite all of you within this amazing community to take the pledge, to show support for organizations like Special Olympics. Today, March 1, 2017 is the National Day of Awareness to Spread the Word to End the Word. Visit https://www.r-word.org/ and take a few minutes to take the pledge to stop using this word and to encourage others to do the same. Let’s take the same love and respect we show ourselves on the mat off the mat and out into the world!
Each one of us has the power to create a positive change, both on and off the mat, in our yoga practice, at work, in our everyday lives. I sincerely hope you choose to join me in this campaign to make this change. If you need help knowing what to do or say to help bring awareness to others, such as friends and family who use this word, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll help when able: I’ve got it down to an unpleasant noise, finger point, and a request to use a different word (my friends who still struggle to not use this word are now catching themselves thanks to my dying dinosaur warning noise). So let’s all join together today and every day to spread the word to end the word!!!