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Sticks and Stones

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I have refrained from commenting about the recent brouhaha regarding Dr. Laura, as my fellow bloggers have effectively and appropriately castigated her racist radio rant. Suffice it to say that racism, verbal or otherwise, should have no place in our society. A bit of advice: perhaps the N-word the marriage and family therapist/broadcaster might now wish to address is "Narcissism."

The latest show biz hullaballoo to hit the airwaves has come from a different corner of the PC spectrum: the use of the "R-word" by a popular actress promoting her latest movie. Jennifer Aniston supposedly did not intend to hurt others, but used the word to minimize the value and esteem of the work she sees herself doing. (I might suggest that any discomfort she feels at being paid millions of dollars to, as she was quoted, "dress up," might be assuaged by large donations of those earnings to charities and social services providers.)

But, despite Ms. Aniston's intent, there is no question, that the "R-word" does hurt others. My 18-year-old daughter, with her sparkling eyes and glowing smile, has severe developmental delays. As do her classmates at her understaffed special education center of her local public school district. Stacy's delays prevent her from understanding the pejorative meaning of words such as "R_____." But many of her schoolmates with less severe special needs are indeed very capable of comprehending that their level of development is seen by some as negatively integral to the value of their lives and their worth as human beings.

I won't belabor the issue--I'll simply take the opportunity to provide education for Ms. Aniston and others who may not realize the impact of words that denigrate human limitations on those who are striving to live a full, happy and inclusive life. It behooves us all to think before we speak--not because we are being "politically correct," but because our words do have the potential to wound others. Life brings its own challenges--we should not add to those challenges by championing insensitivity.

Which brings me to our current state of discourse. Yes, we need debate and discussion, and we should not shy away from communicating about issues, concerns and controversy. But, that debate and discussion should be reasoned, professional, personally and culturally sensitive, and empathetic. If you are convinced that tax breaks for the rich will improve our economy, for example, feel free to attempt to convince me of your perspective--but please refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and name calling that undermines our society's civility. I may not agree with you, but I am more likely to listen if you don't spin the discussion into a hateful attack. We have, I'm afraid, often substituted the intensity of our voice and the maliciousness of our language for the well thought out content and information that should be exchanged.

"Live" television--"live" everything--has certainly contributed to this "speak your mind" lack of filters. Slowly, the boundaries of what we share have been chipped away, and the result has not always been positive. Feelings are hurt, egos are wounded and everyone, including witnesses, is often embarrassed. I suppose it is unrealistic of me to ever hope that we can return communication to the level and hard work required to communicate politely as well as effectively. But we certainly must labor to consider that we don't live in a vacuum (or a world of vacuum tubes) and that our audience, on the air, online or outside ourselves, goes beyond our own inner dialogue.

We all know the Golden Rule. Perhaps we all also need to remember "Thumper's Rule" (from the movie "Bambi"), too. "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

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