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A few words on the 'R-word'

August 28, 2008

Re "The 'R-word' is no joke," Opinion, Aug. 22

Maria Shriver wants to make the "R-word" as unacceptable as the "N-word," adding to the ever-growing list of terms that are off-limits. It is true that words can be hurtful, and thoughtful people should respect the feelings of others. But shutting off speech isn't going to stop boorish behavior.

The typical reaction to insults these days is to get even. A better solution would be to get thicker skins. Names hurt only when we allow them to hurt.

I took my fair share of insults while growing up, mainly because I was a nerd instead of an athlete. My response was the "sticks and stones" approach Shriver dismisses. I have great respect for those who use insults as a source of inner strength to prove bullies wrong. Michael Phelps says this has been part of his motivation. Whining, protesting, picketing, banning speech and insisting on paybacks are counterproductive for everyone.

Gary Watkins

Sun Valley

Shriver speaks well for the many of us who decry the use of the name-calling word "retard." It is hurtful enough that children use it indiscriminately and with mean intent, but it is unconscionable when used and promoted by adults.

DreamWorks' movie "Tropic Thunder" makes this expression "acceptable." As Shriver notes, the movie company has agreed to include a public service announcement in its DVD. That concession is a grain of sand on the beach, though.

Those with influence in the entertainment industry must consider the human beings with physical, mental and neurological disabilities and illnesses. They must think deeply of how name-calling can make each individual feel.

Nancy Levinson

Beverly Hills

Shriver's attempt to equate the word "retard" with the "N-word" trivializes hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow laws, discrimination and bloodshed. Admit it: There was no groundswell of indignation over "retard" until her brother, as chairman of the board of the Special Olympics, whipped up a story by denouncing the humor in an R-rated film.

If California's first lady is so pained by labels, where was her moral outcry each time her husband disrespected our officials as so many "girlie men"?

More important, where were her published opinions that defended the downtrodden when the governor chose to demean state employees with minimum-wage paychecks? Or when he vetoed legislation, not once but twice, that would have granted equal rights to gay and lesbian couples in California? Or his empty promise of healthcare reform?

The real words and deeds of our first lady's spouse elicit far more pain than the gags in that fictional movie. Yet Shriver dares to preach "respect," an attribute that's absent under her own roof.

The dictionary defines "retarded" as "slowed or delayed in progress." When it comes to defending the disrespected, is Shriver being selective, hypocritical or just retarded?

James Roman

Los Angeles

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