A Mother’s Care

Kitten, kid, calf or child,
there’s one drink they desire.
A gift that only mothers give,
pale, rich and required.

When flowing out of cattle’s teat,
no prefix you will find.
But from a goat, we always note,
to keep the source in mind.

Yet when one of our Ernest young,
longs for a mother’s care,
we don’t recall from whom it came,
but we do recall from where.

Miracles

Countless clusters of frost and crystal gracefully descend to rest, dressing the trees in white to celebrate the winter holiday. With a warm cup of hot chocolate in hand, a young mother watches her son gleefully shred paper and toss ribbons she placed with care. But as each impractical, meaningless toy is revealed, her grin fades.

Images of blood and gunfire march through her mind as she ponders the fate of her love. It has been two hundred and sixty-four days and this morning since last they savored each other’s presence. Hope and fear have spared her no sleep since she last heard that the helicopter did not return from its mission.

Then a knock at the door.

Hatred boils in her blood. She knows that stoic men with hat in hand stand solemnly on her porch to deliver the news that she already knows. Before she can even set down her cup, her cheeks drip and her heart sinks into her stomach.

“Who’s at the door?” the boy asks.

“Nobody,” she responds, “just keep opening your presents.”

She makes her way to the door, clutching her chest and holding her mouth, ready to hear the words that can set her free from fear and allow her to accept his death. Tearful and trembling, she pauses to look in the mirror before greeting the figures who have haunted her.

As the wooden slab swings open, the fear evaporates and she crumbles to the floor. Every horrid vision melts away as despair becomes a memory. Bliss descends and renders every thought and word insufficient. Her love has come home.

This story is truly a miracle. Or is it?

Most are quick to declare an event a miracle, but before we can agree or disagree with such assessments, it would be wise to define the conditions of a miracle.

Although miracles are considered supernatural by many, it is much more difficult to discern the intent of heavenly beings than to examine the qualities of a typical miracle. For this reason, we will ignore the metaphysical nature of miracles and instead focus on the measurable and observable ingredients required in order for an event to be defined as miraculous.

Based on the common understanding of miracles, there are four possible criteria for the event:

  1. It is beneficial to the recipient.
  2. It is requested by or meaningful to the recipient.
  3. It is extremely unlikely or timely.
  4. It seems impossible or its origin is unknown.

Not all of these criteria are of equal weight. To be accepted by most as a miracle, an event must meet the first requirement. It is obvious, but worth discussing, that miracles must benefit those who experience them. This is because miraculous events often affect those other than the recipient in benign or negative ways.

When someone wins the lottery, it means that many others did not win. When we find money on the street, it means that someone lost it. There’s even a movie called Miracle which documents the triumph of the United States men’s Olympic hockey team in 1980. But this tale is as much about the American team overcoming incredible odds as it is about the Soviet Union team suffering disappointment and defeat – an inevitable consequence of competition. In this story, the Soviet team’s experience met only the last three criteria. Because their experience was detrimental, they likely reached the opposite conclusion as the Americans, declaring the event a curse or punishment. In order for us to experience a miracle, we must be the beneficiary of the event.

There are times, however, when miraculous events don’t benefit us but spare us from harm. Narrowly escaping a calamity, especially a rare or unusual unusual one, or surviving a terminal illness will cause us to feel blessed even though we didn’t gain from the event.

It’s also possible for events to be reevaluated weeks, months or years after they occur. A seemingly meaningless or even negative experience can later be perceived as miraculous. Likewise, a miracle may one day be invalidated in light of new information.

The second criteria for a miracle isn’t quite as important as the first, though some would argue that it is also an essential component. The additional importance is likely a reflection of the belief that miracles are a direct result of prayer or divine intervention. To them, the fact that the event was requested or meaningful reflects their deity’s care and benevolence toward them. To those who do not subscribe to this notion, it is not enough to solidify a positive event as a miracle, though it may enhance the significance of what is already considered a miracle.

The final two criteria are what many identify as the primary cause for their interpretation of an event as a miracle. When explaining the reason why we believe our experience was miraculous, the fact that the event was beneficial is obvious and therefore not mentioned. The request or special meaning is used only between those who share a supernatural view of miracles, but even in such cases, this facet can be considered less credible due to its emotional and subjective nature. For this reason, the last two criteria are much more likely to be offered as proof of a miracle.

There is a good chance that a positive event that is extremely unlikely or timely will be considered a miracle. Winning the lottery, finding money on the street or overcoming incredible odds to achieve victory are all evidence of the significance of the event being unlikely or timely. We do not consider winning two dollars on a scratchcard a miracle because the chance of winning a small amount is high. Likewise, finding money on the street is only considered a miracle in a time of need. And there’s nothing miraculous about a heavy favorite winning a sporting match. Miracles have to surprise us – make us stop and ponder the significance of the event – which leads us to our final criteria.

Similar to the feeling of astonishment brought on by experiencing an extremely unlikely or timely beneficial event, the impossible or unknown origin of such an event also stirs in us the sense that something miraculous has happened. Just as our inability to predict an outcome causes us to declare it random, when we cannot understand or explain how something happened, the natural conclusion for many is that the laws of nature were temporarily suspended by some benevolent force in order to bestow on us a special blessing. Though this idea is more likely to be accepted by those who believe that miracles are divine, the sense of mystery alone retains the power to convince us that we have experienced a miracle.

For those who do not attribute miracles to divine intervention, the source of a seemingly impossible or unknowable event need not be identified in order for them to be amazed by it. However, as science continues to unravel the mysteries of the universe, this criteria becomes less credible. The constant ratification of our understanding of the physical world makes it less likely for us to declare that the origin of an event is impossible or unknowable, which means that we are also less likely to consider such an event a miracle.

The last three criteria we talked about are distinct from one another, but they all perform the same function: the creation of a sense of significance. In order for us to believe that an event was a miracle, supernatural or not, we must be astonished by it. Though some frivolously brand childbirth, sunrises and friendship as miracles, we must know that what we experienced was truly special in order to feel like it was a miracle.

So now we know what factors influence our belief in miracles. We’ve seen that miracles must be beneficial (at least to the one evaluating the event). In addition, we know that an event that is requested or particularly meaningful is more likely to be considered a miracle, especially by those who believe that miracles are supernatural. We also looked at the two most common causes of events being interpreted as miracles: unlikeliness or timeliness and an impossible or unknowable origin. Now let’s try evaluating some events to determine which criteria they meet and whether or not they deserve the title of miracle.

  • A woman is the sole survivor of a plane crash.
  • A man is struck by lightning on his way to work.
  • A child prays for rain and the following day it rains.
  • A man receives an unmarked envelope containing the exact amount of money needed to pay his debt.
  • A woman who is thought unable to conceive becomes pregnant.
  • A child born with a severe disability is abandoned but later adopted into a loving family.

It is certainly possible to evaluate these events, but what if we don’t see the big picture? What about the other passengers who died in the plane crash? What if the man struck by lightning was a serial killer? What if the child who prayed for rain did so without knowing that the weather report already predicted rain? Questions like these raise concern that our interpretations may be oversimplified.

The declaration of a miracle reflects confidence in our understanding (or lack of understanding) of the cause and purpose of an event. Even if we claim that the origin of the event is unknowable, that in itself is a claim of knowledge about the origin of the event. By labeling an event miraculous, we are saying that we know why it happened. Of course, it’s not impossible that we are correct, but the assertion that we understand the cause and purpose of events may say more about us than it does about the event.

There can be miracles when you believe.

Forever Young

What would the world be like if we lived forever?

Before we ponder this intricate hypothetical, let’s answer another question: what is it about old people that makes them old?

Obviously if we’re defining age as the gradual deterioration of the physical form, then the answer is some complex explanation involving DNA and telomeres, but that’s not what we’re discussing today. What we want to know is what biological, experiential and environmental factors cause an old person to feel and act like an old person. Let’s take a look at four traits commonly associated with the elderly.

The first example we’ll look at is speed. Older people tend to walk, talk and drive slower than younger folk. This is likely due the fact that as the body ages, ligaments tighten, joints stiffen and reaction time slows. This decrease in speed is clearly caused by the aging of the physical body.

The second trait is memory. Seniors are known to have trouble recollecting the past. While it’s true that older people have more memories to scan through, dementia and the natural deterioration of the brain are the culprits here.

The third example we’ll examine is the inability or unwillingness to adapt. It is well known that the elderly are not generally fond of change and that they struggle to understand modern morality, fashion and technology. This could be caused by a decrease in brain function, but a more likely source is the increase in nostalgia over time. As we age, we tend to view the past more favorably and become increasingly frustrated with modern conventions and inventions.

The final trait is political disposition. Older citizens tend to vote differently and with a different frequency than other sections of the population. This is caused by what is known as the cohort effect – the observation that populations with shared experiences tend to have certain traits in common. So, for example, those who endured the the depression of the 1930s in their youth are more likely to finish the food on their plate, enjoy farming and vote for politicians who are fiscally conservative later in life.

So we clearly have some traits that are caused by physical aging and others that, while rooted in the transition from youth to adulthood, come from merely existing for a long period of time. Before we return to the original question, let’s answer one more: what does living forever look like?

When we attempt to answer this question, many of us imagine a world full of young, healthy and happy individuals, but the cure for death can come in many forms. Here are five possible immortality scenarios:

  1. Mr. Freeze: we find a way to stop the physical effects of aging, but not reverse them. Our bodies no longer age, but we retain the years that we have already accrued.
  2. Death Becomes Her: we discover a way to prevent our bodies from shutting down due to old age, but we cannot prevent our bodies from degenerating.
  3. The Fountain of Youth: we find a way to restore our bodies to their youthful form, and no one ages beyond their prime.
  4. Robocop:  we use technology to modify our minds and bodies to an extent that age becomes irrelevant.
  5. Ghost in the Shell: we discover a way to transport consciousness into machines, shedding our useless organic forms.

Of these five possibilities, the most relevant and feasible is likely among the first three. At first it may appear as though these scenarios are very similar, but whether or not we are returned to our youth or our aging is halted will affect the world in significant ways.

Earlier we discussed some of the differences between the elderly and other demographics. Now imagine that the entire world is comprised of only individuals of the same age. In order to progress, we must have a better understanding of immortality’s effects.

First, we must acknowledge that our perception of age is largely based on physical appearance. Sure, there are those traits that we mentioned earlier, but it’s likely that if a 90-year-old woman was transported into the body of a 20-year-old woman, she would be treated much differently. The fact that romances such as the one between Bella and Edward from the Twilight series do not arouse suspicion reveals just how poor our understanding of age actually is.

In the series, Bella is a 17-year-old high school student who falls in love with Edward, a 106-year-old vampire. Edward became a vampire when he was 17, which means that he appears to be the same age as Bella. Now in the real world, a relationship between a 17-year-old and a 106-year-old is not only illegal, it’s downright unimaginable. Despite this, the relationship initially seems believable because Edward appears to be 17. In actuality, Edward may have more luck finding a suitable wife at a retirement home than a high school.

Now for a moment let’s imagine that there is a group of immortal people who have been alive for 1,000 years. What would they think of modern morals and fashion? What kind of grasp would they have on modern technology? How would they vote? The answers to these questions depend on whether or not we believe that youthful or elderly traits are derived from the age of the physical body we inhabit or from the amount of time that we exist.

Another mystery of immortality is that we don’t know what happens to people when they live beyond a century or so. As we discussed, we tend to become more conservative as we age, unwilling or unable to accept new ideas. If this trend were to continue indefinitely, an ever-aging population may threaten to stamp out political change completely.

It’s also important to remember that we don’t know how the cohort effect would be affected by a population that doesn’t physically age. It’s possible that without maturing past our youth, the window in which shared experiences may affect us is extended indefinitely. Many of us, especially seniors, look back on our youth with nostalgia, but if we’re eternally young, is it even possible to do so?

A final point to consider before we move on: if people lived forever, we would likely need a limit on breeding in order to control the population. This means that there would be few, if any, new humans. This lack of new life may slow the rate of change drastically, for there would be no inquisitive and rebellious youngsters to challenge the establishment. Another potential side effect could be a lack of inspiration and concern for others, since there is no future generation to which we might pass on a better world.

Now let’s explore some possible outcomes if these situations became reality. Here’s a table showing what we will experience based on the immortality scenario and whether or not aging continues to affect us once our bodies have stopped maturing.

Age Type Immortality Type
We Stay How We Are We Get Physically Old We Stay Young
Aging Affects Us We appear as we are now, but we feel and act increasingly old. We appear old, and we feel and act increasingly old. We appear young, but we feel and act increasingly old.
Aging Doesn’t Affect Us We appear, feel and act as we are now. We appear, feel and act old, but aging stops. We appear, feel and act young.

So what would the world be like if we lived forever? Well that depends not only on the means by which we cheat death and whether or not aging continues to affect us, but also on our ideas of what it means to be young or old. Based on these factors, we may be excited or frightened at the concept of immortality.

If, for example, we are all made young, never age and aging doesn’t continue to affect us, then the world’s entire population will be comprised of people that look, feel and act young. For those who are wary of the rebellious and reckless trappings of youth, this might sound like a recipe for disaster. If, however, aging continues to affect us, then we may end up with a whole world that is increasingly fond of the past and skeptical of change. This may cause moral and political shifts to halt and technological innovation to cease.

Now some may argue that the world is not so easily divided into the old and young, pointing to studies that reveal how our views do not become more conservative as we age. However, what is considered a conservative view does change over time, and so time makes conservatives of us all.

In the immortal words of Hartwig Schierbaum, do you really want to live forever?

The World’s Hardest Multiple Choice Question: Part III

If each of the questions in this series may have more than one correct response, which of the following questions has more than one answer?

A. Which of the following are correct answers to this question?

  • B.
  • C.
  • D.
  • C.

B. If the answer to this question _______ then the answer _______.

  • isn’t B, is A, B or C.
  • is B, isn’t A, C or D.
  • doesn’t exist, is C.
  • isn’t A, B or C, doesn’t exist.

C. How many incorrect answers does this question have?

  • 2.
  • 1.
  • 3.
  • 2.

D. There are _______ total correct responses to all questions in this series.

  • 6.
  • 8.
  • 10.
  • 10.
If you haven’t already, try part I and part II.

Good Form

  1. Common problems with written communication
    1. Continuity
    2. Length
      • Relevant information not included
      • Irrelevant information included
      • Overdeveloped ideas
      • Underdeveloped ideas
    3. Omission of information
  2. Benefits of point form
    1. Separate ideas
      • Ensure continuity
    2. Establish framework
      • Manage document length
      • Plan idea development
      • Include all critical information
  3. Examples
    1. Outlines
      1. Problems with written communication
        1. Continuity
        2. Length
        3. Omission
      2. Benefits of point form
        1. Establishes framework
        2. Separates ideas
      3. Examples
        1. Outlines
          1. Problems with written communication
          2. Benefits of point form
          3. Examples
            1. Drafting an essay
            2. Event planning
            3. Outlines
            4. Presentations
            5. List of items
            6. Instructions
            7. Index
        2. Drafting an essay
          1. Introduction
          2. First point
          3. Second point
          4. Third point
          5. Conclusion
        3. Event planning
          1. Essential information
          2. Invitations
          3. Decorations
          4. Seating
          5. Food and drink
          6. Entertainment
          7. Accommodations
        4. Presentations
          1. Business proposal
          2. Educational presentation
        5. List of items
          1. Category 1
          2. Category 2
          3. Category 3
        6. Instructions
          1. Product assembly
          2. Extracting computer files
            1. Windows
            2. DOS
        7. Index
    2. Drafting an essay
      1. Introduction
        • Thesis statement
        • Outline of three points
      2. First point
        • Explain
        • Support
          • Quote
          • Story
          • Data
      3. Second point
        • Explain
        • Support
          • Quote
          • Story
          • Data
      4. Third point
        • Explain
        • Support
          • Quote
          • Story
          • Data
      5. Conclusion
        • Summary
        • Explain connection between points and thesis
    3. Planning events
      1. Essential information
        • Event name
        • Date
        • Start time
        • End time
        • Location
        • Guest list
      2. Invitations
        • Include essential information
        • Use attractive and appropriate design
        • Don’t use Comic Sans
      3. Decorations
        • Flowers
        • Lights
        • Plates and cutlery
      4. Seating
        • Chairs
        • Tables
      5. Food and drink
        • Appetizers
          • Cheese and crackers
          • Crudités
          • Chips and dip
          • Deviled eggs
        • Entrees
          • Fish
          • Chicken
          • Beef
          • Lamb
        • Dessert
          • Cake
          • Mousse
          • Pudding
        • Drinks
          • Champagne
          • Beer
          • Wine
          • Soda
          • Water
        • Alternatives for those with allergies or moral issues with certain foods or beverages
      6. Entertainment
        • Choose appropriate music
          • Rap
            • Jay-Z
            • Lil Wayne
            • Eminem
            • Dr. Dre
          • Country
            • Brad Paisley
            • Taylor Swift
            • Tim McGraw
          • Electronic
            • Daft Punk
            • Moby
            • Depeche Mode
          • Rock and/or roll
            • The Beatles
            • Bob Dylan
            • Elvis Presley
            • ACDC
          • Classical
            • Beethoven
            • Bach
            • Mozart
            • Chopin
        • Activities or games
          • Karaoke
          • Charades
          • Apple bobbing
          • Musical chairs
          • Simon says
        • Professional entertainers
          • Musician
          • Clown
          • Hypnotist
          • Animals
            • Pony
            • Horse
            • Tarantula
      7. Accommodations
        • Parking
        • Restrooms
        • Travel
          • Taxi
          • Limousine
          • Airplane
          • Helicopter
        • Lodging
    4. Presentations
      1. Business proposal
        • Introduction
        • First point
          • Data
            • Chart
            • Graph
            • Statistic
          • Summary
        • Second point
          • Data
            • Chart
            • Graph
            • Statistic
          • Summary
        • Third point
          • Data
            • Chart
            • Graph
            • Statistic
          • Summary
        • Summary
          • Projections
            • Costs
            • Returns
            • Risk
      2. Educational presentation
        • Introduction
        • First point
          • Media
            • Image
            • Video
            • Music
            • Sound
          • Explanation
        • Second point
          • Media
            • Image
            • Video
            • Music
            • Sound
          • Explanation
        • Third point
          • Media
            • Image
            • Video
            • Music
            • Sound
          • Explanation
        • Conclusion
          • Media
            • Image
            • Video
            • Music
            • Sound
    5. List of items
      1. Category 1
        • Item 1
        • Item 2
        • Item 3
      2. Category 2
        • Item 1
        • Item 2
        • Item 3
      3. Category 3
        • Item 1
        • Item 2
        • Item 3
    6. Instructions
      1. Product assembly
        • Introduction
          • Description of product
          • Diagram of completed product
          • Supplier contact information
          • Warning
        • Outline
        • List of tools and components
          • Wrench
          • Nuts
          • Bolts
          • Hammer
          • Nails
          • Screwdriver
          • Screws
          • Wooden dowels
        • Step 1
          • Diagram
          • Instruction
            • Caution
        • Step 2
          • Diagram
          • Instruction
            • Caution
        • Step 3
          • Diagram
          • Instruction
            • Caution
        • Congratulations
        • Description of product use
        • Diagram of product in use
      2. Extracting computer files
        1. Windows
          • Locate file
            • Find (Windows key + F)
            • Windows Explorer (Windows key + E)
          • Navigate to file location
          • Determine file type
            • Zip
            • Rar
            • Exe
          • Run extraction program
            • Zip
              • WinZip
            • Rar
              • WinRAR
            • Exe
              • Windows Installer
          • Choose target location
          • Extract files
          • Exit extraction program
        2. DOS
          • Locate file
            • [file drive]:
            • dir *[filename]*.* /s
          • Determine file type
            • Zip
              • Choose target location
                • Create directory
                  • md [target drive]:\[target path]
            • Exe
          • Run extraction program
            • Zip
              • PKUNZIP
                • pkunzip [file drive]:\[file path]\[filename].zip [target drive]:\[target path]
            • Exe
              • Self-installer
                • [file drive]:\[file path]\[filename]
                • Choose target location
    7. Index
      • Accommodations, Event, 3.3.7
      • Benefits, Writing, 2.0
      • Business, 3.4.1
      • Category, List, 3.5.1, 3.5.2, 3.5.3
      • Conclusion, Essay, 3.2.5
      • Continuity, Writing, 1.1
      • Decorations, Event, 3.3.3
      • DOS, 3.6.2.2
      • Drafting, Essay, 3.2
      • Entertainment, Event, 3.3.6
      • Event planning, 3.3
      • Extracting files, Windows, 3.6.2
      • Extracting files, DOS, 3.6.3
      • Food and drink, Event, 3.3.5
      • Framework, Writing, 2.1
      • Instructions, 3.3.6
      • Invitations, Event, 3.3.2
      • Length, Writing, 1.2
      • List of items, 3.5
      • Omission, Writing, 1.3
      • Outline, 3.1, 3.3.1, 3.3.3.1
      • Presentations, 3.4
      • Problems, Writing, 1.0
      • Product assembly, 3.6.1
      • Proposal, Business, 3.4.1
      • Seating, Event, 3.3.4
      • Windows, 3.6.2.1

En Retard: Part II

In part I we were introduced to the r-word movement, discovered the nature of slurs, slang and insults, and we also discredited the assertion that words like retard are unacceptable because they are offensive slurs with a history of clinical use. But we left one question unanswered: why is there so much concern about the use of this word in particular? There are at least three possible explanations for this.

The first reason could be the simple randomness of language. The evolution of terminology is often unpredictable and cannot always be explained. For example, there isn’t a logical reason why it’s okay to call a Caucasian person white or a person of African descent black, but it’s not okay to call an Asian person yellow or a Native American red. 

Another possible source for the concern around a specific term could be special interest groups. These organizations champion only a single cause and seek to generate as much support and attention as possible. It could be that there are simply a greater number of groups, or merely more influential groups, dedicated to the eradication of the word retard than most other terms, which leads us to our third and final possible explanation.

Humans have the ability to feel empathy for, and can generate sensitivity on behalf of, a perceived offended party. Our concern for others, especially those we consider vulnerable, allows us to take offense to an insult directed at another person and to a slur with which we have no association. Perhaps the word retard demands greater sensitivity because those with mental disabilities are especially unfit to defend themselves on both the individual and public levels. This would explain the localized sensitivity surrounding some people groups, namely those who were once neglected or persecuted.

Regardless of the cause (or combination of causes), this crusade to banish the word retard  from the face of the Earth is not likely to dissipate any time soon. But is this aim even achievable? And if it is, is this a reasonable and permanent solution to the problem? Fortunately, this is not the first time that a term has been officially replaced due to sensitivity. In fact, several successors to the word retard have already been proposed, implemented and eliminated.

The word retard is derived from the French word, which literally translates “to slow or delay,” and as we already discussed, was a clinical term used to describe a person who was mentally underdeveloped. Now let’s try to understand how the evolution of terms progressed.

Based on what we learned about the nature of insults, people likely started to use the term retard as an insult. After all, what better way to attack someone than to infer that they suffer from a mental disability? Either by intent or natural progression, the term handicapped became an acceptable alternative, but it too was eventually used as a verbal attack. Its decline is partially attributed to its association with disabled Civil War veterans who begged on the street. Although this use of the word is not historically corroborated, the negative associations are quite real.

After handicapped came the terms special needs and disabled, which were considered more pleasant and accurate euphemisms, but special needs has since become unacceptable. In an article by Key Ministry, titled Is “Special Needs” Acceptable People First Language? the author argues that,”‘Special’ often carries with it the connotation of separate or segregated,” and goes on to claim that children with disabilities, “are desperate to not be seen as different… who would prefer to fail in school as opposed to be seen as different by their peers.”

The term disabled has also been deemed inappropriate by those on the cutting edge of sensitivity because it defines an individual by their condition. This has lead to the creation of the current label, person [living] with a disability. The idea is that by describing those with disabilities as people first, the disability does not become their identity or defining feature. Here are some examples of how this terminology works:

  • Blind person becomes person who is blind or person living with blindness.
  • Obese person becomes person who is obese or person living with obesity.
  • Drug addict becomes person who is addicted to drugs or person living with drug addiction.
  • Mentally disabled person becomes person who has a mental disability or person living with a mental disability.
  • Dead person becomes person who is dead or person who is living with death.

Although attempting to protect the dignity of those with disabilities is a noble cause, it seems as though the revision of terminology is a futile endeavor. Sure, we might generate enough awareness and support to have a governing body pass legislation to change official terminology. And sure, we might get the common person to remove a word from their vocabulary, but in the end, no matter what new words are chosen, they will eventually fall into the mouths of those who care nothing for the troubles of others. This is because – and this is the important part – there is no intrinsic good or evil in a grouping of letters or sounds. Words mean whatever we decide they mean, and by abandoning corrupted words, we’re allowing these insensitive, uneducated individuals to determine their meaning.

Another problem with attempting to change language is that by producing long and technical alternative terminology, we’re asking people to be very deliberate in their descriptions of those with disabilities, which isn’t how we talk about any other group. Old people are not living with old age; they’re old. And blonde people are not living with blonde hair; they’re blonde. By using alternate language for groups such as those with disabilities, we’re acknowledging that they are different and should be treated differently, which only fuels the segregation that many are striving to erase.

So if replacing offensive words is not a reasonable solution, what, if anything, can be done? There are actually three potential solutions to this problem, with the first being the option we just explored.

  1. Banish offensive words and replace them with new ones.
  2. Stop people from insulting each other.
  3. Stop taking offence on behalf of others and stop allowing ourselves to be insulted.

We already discussed how the first solution provides only temporary relief from the issue, so what about the other two? Well the ideal answer is actually the second one, but in order for it to succeed, humanity would have to undergo a massive behavioral shift. As we already mentioned in part I, humans learn to insult one another at an early age, and it’s not always done with malicious intent. Insults play a significant role in comedy, business and politics, and when combined with sarcasm, they can even be used to flatter. As a crucial tool of communication, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the end of insults any time soon.

Recent hate crime legislation attempts to address the issue of crimes specifically targeting certain people groups, and there are those who believe that we should apply these principles to protect groups from slurs. Aside from violating the freedom of expression, attempting to legislate language would be a horribly arduous and complex task. Also, the concept of extending special legal protection for some individuals creates a huge problem in terms of consistency; and we can’t have fairness and equality without consistency. If we’re going to retire or ban every term that offends, then there are thousands of words in need of revision.

The third and final option doesn’t really seem like a good solution. After all, allowing something to happen is seldom a feasible approach to prevention. But in this case, it’s actually the best choice and here’s why:

Because we know that we can’t stop insults and because of inherent negative associations with disabilities, along with many other traits and characteristics, insensitive individuals will continue to attack others using these labels, the only element that we can actually control is ourselves.

As we discussed in part I, in order for an insult to be effective, both the speaker and the audience must understand the negative association with the chosen word or phrase. If we call someone a retard, it’s insulting because both parties understand that being retarded is bad. In the same way, calling someone fat or stupid is slanderous because our society identifies obesity and poverty as undesirable qualities. If someone thought that being fat or stupid were somehow desirable traits, then it would be impossible to attack them with these words.

By allowing ourselves to take offense to, or be insulted by, a label, we’re acknowledging the negative association with that people group. The only way we can thwart the endless onslaught of insults is to refuse to recognize the negativity attached to those words, and by extension, the people groups they represent. We must reclaim the destiny of diction from the hands of those who would use it to hurt, and we must recognize that all members of society are of equal value and deserve equal legal protection and public recognition. If we really believe that the disabled with are people first and we don’t wish to segregate them, then we should afford them every and only every right afforded to others, including the dignity of ridicule.