The power of a word

Striving to use inclusive language no matter the circumstance

More stories from Sami West



Growing up, I never would have thought one little word would be able to make as large of an impact on my life as it has.

Words hurt. It’s impossible to pretend words hold no importance or meaning within our society because they do affect us.

One word has carried an extraordinary amount of weight in my life personally: the R-word. A word so derogatory, so offensive, so personal to my family and others families like ours that it makes me sick to hear it used so casually.

My older brother Alex has an intellectual disability. It’s a reality I’ve had to face my entire life, but I’ve never known anything different and I’ve never wanted anyone’s pity.

He is the most compassionate, generous and all around likable person I’ve ever met. I’m proud to call him my brother.

Is it too much to ask that we show compassion towards others? Is it too much to ask that we use inclusive language at all times?

We can pretend it’s funny, ironic, and “no big deal”  to use offensive language to jokingly insult people, but at the end of the day, really all we’re doing is promoting social intolerance.

You can’t look at someone and know his or her story or what words carry the most weight in their lives. But if we all strive to use inclusive language, we won’t have to worry about accidentally offending or upsetting others.

I can’t express how many times I’ve been talking to someone, and they accidentally slip up and use the R-word in front of me. I can tell they’re embarrassed and sometimes ashamed.

Sometimes they don’t even realize the pain they caused me by uttering that word.

I understand they didn’t intentionally try to cause me any pain by using that word. I understand they “didn’t mean it that way.” I really do.

But it’s just not OK. Choose another word.

Usually I choose not to say anything. I tell myself I’m making them feel worse about it by silently taking it in and playing the victim. I tell myself their ignorance is simply not worth my time.

But recently, I’ve learned how wrong that is — silence does nothing.

A man named John Franklin Stephens, a thirty year old Special Olympian who happens to have Down Syndrome, wrote an open letter to Ann Coulter in response to her tweet in which she referred to President Obama as a retard.

He took a stand. And because of this, I’m going to continue striving to take a stand, regardless of my non confrontational nature.

Others are taking a stand, too. 576,588 people in the world have pledged online at to refrain from     using the R-word.

At UW-Eau Claire, Best Buddies organizes campaigns every spring to “Spread the Word to End the Word” on campus.

Although more individuals and organizations are campaigning to strip the R-word from society’s vocabulary, even more people should be taking a stand against a word so derogatory.

(Especially individuals like me who are so personally impacted by the casual use of this word.)

I refuse to remain silent any longer, and you should do the same.