I am going to cut against the grain with this one, but this is a hot button issue for me, and I accept that I may be alone.

Frankly, I am bit annoyed at self-appointed lexicon police type people. I have recently been part of a discussion concerning people with special needs and the term(s) we use to identify them.

Disabled people become people with disabilities who then become people with special needs. How long before Special Needs becomes a negative term? You think not? What images are evoked by the term special ed or children on the little bus? I see a progression from cripple (crip), to handicapped, to disabled, to special needs. Each transition was intended to take away the stigma attached to the previous word. Are we preparing the next politically correct term to be used when special needs becomes associated with the stereotypes of those groups?

In my life I have watched the transition where “old people” became a negative term because it evoked images of people that were frail. In turn the term “elderly” was adopted until that term became associated with old people. So instead of “elderly”, people wanted to be called “seniors”, until that term was tied to images of old people, so the term “active seniors” became the catch phrase.

Or think of Indians – American Indians – Native Americans – First Peoples

There is no end to the progression once we take that route.

During the United States war for independence the British often called colonists Yankees, which was a derogatory term with a meaning similar to a modern day yokel or hillbilly. Instead of complaining, the colonists took it on with pride and redefined the word.

To me it is more important to teach people how to take pride in themselves, once they have done that any name they are called will be a symbol of esteem.

I think that all people deserve respect, but that respect is better demonstrated by our eye contact, listening, and individual attention much more than by the monikers we choose to use. I believe in the age old truth that how you say it is more important that what is said.

I prefer to be called a “drummer” instead of “a person with a drum”, though some people may feel the second is more accurate. Part of why I drum and do drum circles is because within that space we are only an expression of rhythm; labels, stereotypes and distinctions seem for a time to fade away.

There is nothing wrong with being sensitive to people’s feelings and doing our best to choose a vocabulary that is appropriate. My angst is not with any individual, but rather with some of the underlying principles.

Someone mentioned the concept that a person or group of people can choose/use a name for themselves that if used by an outsider it is considered an insult. I recall a line from a Joe Jackson song that said, “Don’t call me a fag unless you’re a friend.”

As a younger person I had a job selling shoes in a department store. One day a mother brought her wheelchair bound daughter in for new shoes. The girl’s body was twisted by one of the devastating muscular disorders. Another woman, dressed in a sequined sweatshirt and horn rimmed glasses approached the girl and told her that she had no right to be out in public and that her appearance was offensive. The mother and young girl were unaffected by the comments.

I had an amazing experience fitting the girl with shoes. When I looked at her contorted body I saw a crippled person, but when my focus was limited to her feet and I listened to her speak I saw a normal young girl. Since that day I have tried to see that “soul” in everyone I meet.

In a polite society it is important to avoid deliberately using terms that people will take exception to. Though, I’ve seen many cases where it was not the person suffering from a condition that was offended, but rather some “do-gooder” who wants the power to set the names. I honestly feel that many people are not offended until someone else tells them they should be.

Remember the old adage about sticks and stones? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. There is a core issue here; to me, (again maybe only to me), being offended is a personal choice. If we want to take offense, anything will do. I recall hearing about a lawsuit over a racial slur because someone called a woman a “fat cow.” By contrast, if we choose to stand in our own power the slurs will roll off with no effect.

In a world where people are offended by terms from Uncle Remus or cartoons of spiritual figures, we need to make a shift. Call me anything you wish; if it is inappropriate I may consider you to be stupid, but under no conditions will I ever give you the power to offend me. If more folks adopted that attitude I think the world would be a much happier place.