As a writer I'm hyperaware of the power of words. Even one word, carefully chosen, can elevate or destroy, inspire passion, evoke hate, crush a soul.
I have a ten-year old boy. He's a nice kid, but even nice kids (sometimes especially nice kids) have to come up with a way to protect themselves from the harsh world of the playground. Words are becoming his weapons of defense. They aren't curse words, but they are hurtful--retard, moron, idiot. I correct him. I get angry. I try to think of creative ways to show the damage these words can cause. Just when I think he gets it, I hear a group of his friends talking while playing hockey. "That's so gay," one of them says. The rest laugh. I realize I'm fighting a battle I'll probably lose.
This issue was tackled so effectively on the show Glee this week. The father of the gay character defended his son after another boy used the word "faggy." The boy didn't mean the harm the word caused, and was shocked by the father's reaction. In an incredibly moving speech, the dad effectively explained the pain, the cumulative pain of a word often used so casually. I went back and forth on whether or not to show this to my son, and ultimately didn't because he'd be watching it out of context.
I guess my job is to connect these words to the pain they cause. The lady down the block has a son with Down's syndrome. We wave hello in the morning on our walk to school. Should ask my son if he'd call this man a retard? My husband's cousin brings his partner to family parties. Would it be appropriate to use the word fag? To call out someone for being "so gay" in front of Jon and Ed?
This seems a little mean, I know. He's ten. But then he's eleven, and then comes junior high and high school where the words (and the cruelty) become much, much worse.
Many of you have kids. Any ideas on how to handle this? I welcome your words of advice!