Recently, I missed the opportunity to bring attention to someone who used a phrase that hurt me deeply. I hope to make that up here. I feel like I have a pretty thick skin, so was surprised myself at how much I was immediately affected. Let me explain:
I was sitting at a table recently and overhead a group talking and heard one of them make a joke. Something to the effect of “…he must have been riding the Short Bus that day”. It was a group of people that worked for the same company, but I didn’t know any of them. Without going into all of the detail, it wasn’t the setting where it was appropriate to “call out” this person and talk with them across the table, in front of her peers and possibly her supervisor, and I’m glad I didn’t. But I did nothing. I froze. I let the words and the moment overwhelm me and I froze, sinking in my chair…for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I felt sick in my stomach. They got up and left. I got up and left.
I wish now I would have done something. After reflection, I think I know what I could have done. I could have written a short note and handed it to her, as privately as possible, on the way out. The note would have said:
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I don’t know you, but I overheard you talking with your colleagues at our table. I heard you making a reference to a “short bus” in a joking way. I don’t think you meant any harm or ill intent by it, and I’m sure the thought didn’t cross your mind how it might affect someone across the same table. I’m a father to a child with special needs. She’s 8 years old and has a terminal degenerative brain disease. Your comment and joke hurt me, in a way I didn’t even expect. I hope that my daughter might be able to ride to school in a bus someday….and yes, it will be that type of bus. I respectfully ask that you consider how words like this could impact other people. If you have children, I ask you take a moment to think about how they might grow up hearing and telling jokes like this. I appreciate you reading this. Thank you.
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Now to be honest, I grew up in the 80’s and I’m sure I remember grade school friends making “short bus” jokes. I’m also sure when I was young I used the “r” word in ways where I didn’t even think about special needs kids. “Stop being “re…ded”, “That’s just “re…ded”. That’s probably because “special needs” wasn’t in my life. I didn’t live it day in and day out. I feel these words still may be common slang in grade schools today and with some adults, albeit not to the same level. I’m so glad to see the campaigns like the #EndTheWord campaign. We can do more as parents to keep educating about this. Have that discussion please. Some sayings are just not appropriate, and it’s time to help remove them as slang or in jokes. Let’s do it conversation by conversation….or note by note. “Compassionately correct”.
Maybe this post will reach someone who will take an extra moment of pause, and consider their words closely, and make a change. I don’t think anyone wants to make another feel like I did at that table.
What are your thoughts?
Glenn (Dad to Eliza, with Sanfilippo Syndrome)