I don’t use the word “retard” or “retarded” anymore when I refer to myself after I mess up.
I have two author friends, Amy Julia Becker, author of “A Good and Perfect Gift” and Gillian Marchenko, author of “Sunshine Down.” They both have daughters who have Down Syndrome. Knowing a bit of their story and their heart, I understand with a new awareness why flippantly tossing that word around is hurtful. This is true even when my intention has been to make fun of myself and not directed at another to harm or insult. In the past I have used the word, but now that I have faces and a connection with my friends, I have woven the understanding into my daily life and word choices.
I don’t put my hand up to my head and form a pretend gun and act like I pull the trigger when I feel frustrated with someone, or try to be funny and use that motion with “you’re killing me” when something ridiculous happens.
I had a friend and former student who took her life in this manner. I am personally aware how this action, even when done in jest, can be hurtful.
I have several African American brothers in the faith. Men I admire and respect. Men of impeccable character who are adoring husbands and dads. I have heard them share stories of how they, or their sons, have been pulled over by the police and mistreated. How, when they walk down the street, women move their purses to the other arm when they walk past. My friendships with these men have opened my eyes and my awareness to the reality of the injustice they experience on a regular basis.
Over time my circle of relationships has grown. Life experiences and challenges have introduced me to new worlds across different landscapes: ethnic, socio-economic, religious, cultural, life-stage, lifestyle, to name a few. I’ve watched courageous women and men navigate parenting kids with special needs, walk through divorce and being a single parent or trying to build trust in a blended family. I’ve seen first hand the heartache of infertility, the joys and challenges of adoption, prodigal kids, broken engagements, addiction, chronic pain, depression, job loss. As my awareness has grown, so has my appreciation for people who walk a path different from my own.
Relationships grow awareness.
Awareness brings about change in attitude and action.
As an Asian American woman, I have experienced first hand both blatant and unintentional racism. Everything from being teased on the playground as a kid to more recently when a well-intentioned missionary spoke slowly, in broken English, and asked me, “You China?” To which I answered in perfect English, “Well, actually, I was born in Wisconsin.” She still went on to ask, in slow, broken English, “You Mommy, Daddy China?”
Two women I deeply respect, Helen Lee and Kathy Khang, wrote an “Open Letter to the Evangelical Church” earlier this week and a group of 80 Asian American leaders issued a call for dialogue and building bridges after multiple cultural misses from influential leaders in the church. You can read more about the situation here in this article by Christianity Today. Nearly 800 have signed in support of the letter. I have added my name as well with the hope that this important conversation will continue; where relationships will deepen and grow awareness, and awareness will bring about change in attitude and action.
I don’t in any way question the intention of any of the men involved in the offensive depictions. Intention is rarely the issue. I think the issue being brought forth is a call and the need for continued conversation. Good leadership is willing to graciously address hard issues, and good leadership graciously receives and responds to feedback, and when needed offers apologies.
Darrin and I, just a couple of weeks back, had a friend and co-worker who asked to talk with us. We didn’t know what it was in regards to, but we held this friend in high esteem and looked forward to connecting. It was brought to our attention how our inactions brought about hurt, frustration, disappointment and a blocked goal of completing what this co-worker had been tasked to accomplish. Our friend was gracious and kind. We were genuinely sad and sorry for what we did (or in this case didn’t do). All of us believed the best. Darrin and I didn’t try to excuse our actions or get defensive. Once we understood how what we did affected our friend, we were able to see from their perspective and apologize from a place of identification and understanding. We were grateful that our friend cared enough to express to us our miss. We wouldn’t have known otherwise. The beauty of reconciliation is that now the air is clear. No hard feelings. Our relationship has been restored and even deepened as friends and co-workers.
All of us make mistakes. Leaders make mistakes. Sometimes intentionally, most of the time unintentionally. All of us have much to learn from one another. All of us can take away a new level of awareness through what we walk through and experience.
I welcome your thoughts.