Thursday, October 25, 2012

What Happened to Basic Human Decency?

I frequently wonder what happened to respect in our society. We can blame many things, not the least of which is reality tv. 

But, in all seriousness, it is a direct reflection of what we teach our children. Not only that we tell them to respect their elders and treat all people with kindness, honesty, and respect. But that we model that in our interactions with the people we work with, our neighbors, the guy emptying trashcans at the park... We all know, whether we want to admit it or not, that kids pay far far far more attention to what we say than to what we do.

And right now, the examples are voluminous and unavoidable. That's right, it's election time.

Seriously, how am I supposed to teach my kids to treat other people as they want to be treated, to offer dignity and respect to every person they meet no matter what that person looks like or sounds like or does, etc, when these people and their 'advocates' are being, to be blunt, absolutely abhorrently vile to one another?!

But a particularly horrible example happened last week. You may have already heard about it. Ann Coulter sent a reprehensible tweet (now is not the time or place for one of my Twitter rants, but damn I want to go there!):

"I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard."   

It hurts me just to type that.

I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. I don't care if you would bear Romney's children or think Obama is the greatest man to ever walk the earth. That statement is completely unacceptable, and if Americans can't see that and call her on it, I fear deeply for our society and children.

But then the light broke over the horizon, and my sadness was dispelled by one of the most beautifully succinct and well-considered responses I have ever seen to a grievous injustice. From Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens:

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren't dumb and you aren't shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I'm a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public's perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are - and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

A friend you haven't made yet,
John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger
Special Olympics Virginia
Kudos, Mr. Stephens. You have touched my heart. You have exemplified what I hope my children become. I will read your letter to them, and continue to read it to them, and hope that they grow to be as smart, articulate, generous and considerate as you.

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