SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Monday, January 26, 2009


“Euphemisms” is the topic which caught my eye today. In an article in The Hindu (Tuesday, 27th Jan.), the author talks of how there is a tendency in journalism to cling to euphemisms (“in other words”).
We have euphemisms being used in any and every field. Saying “Sex worker”, instead of prostitute is the expected norm in that field, but does it change what they do and how we look at them? The author also points out that there are some very funny euphemisms being used, like saying “vertically challenged” instead of a short person, “differently enabled” for a person with multiple disabilities.

What caught my eye is this area that lies close to my heart. that of Disability and euphemisms related to it. Incredibly this is a thought that I have also had many times in my work with the disabled and later while interacting with people and trying to understand their stance on disability.
Disability and its related fields now insist on the use of “politically correct language”. For sure where I come from, anything involving the use of the word politics is bound to be corrupt!
Activists want the common public to be more empathetic and so have coined some words (euphemisms) to substitute the language being used in common. I don’t oppose their intention; it is after all an effort in the right direction, to create public awareness and to come out of the shackles of ridicule and pain that the disabled were/are subject to.

Though the intention is absolutely ok, I wonder whether it will ever serve the purpose. Does just using different terminology ever bring about a change in attitude?
The author also makes a moot point that with a population which is 90% illiterate, such political correctness serves no purpose, and has no reach to the masses.

Finally in their sad struggle with disability the common man, who has not framed these words, and plays no part in this political game, has to face another mighty hurdle as he goes about filling forms for various benefits with almost no clue where and which euphemism he fits into.

We also need to look at how children handle such issues, no jingoistic jargon for them. They can be brutally honest, calling a spade a spade, but at the same time be wonderfully empathetic too.
I remember in the school I used to work, regular school children used to help/volunteer on some days (these were 10/12 standard kids) and the wonderful empathy they used to show. It included making fun of the child’s disability; I don’t mean laughing at them, but with them. Doing wheelies with their wheelchair, and giggling over how the wheelchair child’s leg was sticking out while going down the path or how he almost fell off the chair while negotiating a turn.
That is the incredible language we need to teach our children. Just by being with the disabled children and letting them explore and experience for themselves, our future generations will learn the language of disability and will not be stuck in euphemism that only we as adults need.
We are too far gone in our mindsets and prejudices unlike children. They have the innate capacity to accept, learn, adjust and live, a better life, if only we don’t put our contorted and jaundiced ideas into them!
Though my stance may appear negative towards adults, it is time for introspection. To include them into our lives and not just give lip service by uttering politically correct words, but making a change in our attitude toward those who are different, no matter what is the difference we see in them.