Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the words and comments that come out of the mouths of adults these days. And to be honest, I ask myself, “Who raised these people?” with increasing frequency too. No, I’m not blaming parents for everything – I’m a parent too – but there’s no way *not* to question it sometimes.
Two weeks ago, it was a security guard at Whole Foods who told the sister of a young man with autism that he should be kept on a leash. I was speechless. No, I was fuming and wanted (still do) 15 minutes with this person. And double that amount of time with CEO John Mackey (still do and have attempted the same). I couldn’t believe that anyone would think no less speak such words nor could I believe that someone could even think this about another human being.
Last week, I watched a child staring at a slightly older child in a wheelchair. The parent stood there and watched his child doing the staring, never bending down to quietly say, “It’s not nice to stare” nor attempting to explain to his child why the other child might not be able to walk. It was the parent’s responsibility to capture this as a “teaching moment” vs. basically giving his child staring rights. I wanted to take this on myself.
And today I just read about a situation whereby a family in a restaurant asked for their table to be moved because, “Special kids need to be kept in special places.” This was regarding a child with Down Syndrome (fortunately the waiter refused to serve them – this man deserves a raise). Can you imagine being the parents who overheard this statement about their own child? Or being the child himself hearing it? I’m still speechless yet close to foaming at the mouth with things to say.
I am not naive, but do know that adults/parents are role models for behavior and attitudes. Children see and hear what we as parents do…the good and the bad, and this learning often translates into perpetuating thoughts and behaviors that should be extinguished.
I am not affixing blame, but rather assigning responsibility to those whose antiquated thinking requires an upgrade, even if it’s the thinking of a child. If we as parents don’t understand something, we need to take it upon ourselves to learn. And if we are unaware that our words are harming others, we need to be adult enough to let someone point it out. Life is about learning and even old dogs can learn new tricks.
And I am not unaware that discrimination — blatant or otherwise — continues today. But it’s the short and long-term impact of such attitudes that can destroy a life. “Sticks and stones” has never been an accurate saying in my book.
Children, teenagers, or adults who are on the receiving end of bullying, discrimination, or worse deserve better. Parents raising children with disabilities and special needs deserve better. Companies who employee individuals lacking the awareness and sensitivity to treat every person with respect and dignity deserve better. And we as a society need to demand better. The phrase “stop and think” has never applied more or resonated louder. Words that tumble from a person’s mouth can be weapons and we all know painfully well what weapons can do, don’t we.