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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Christopherson Column: A New Year’s resolution to retire the word ‘needy’

  • Although it might disappoint both those who feel the need to be politically correct at all times as well those who couldn't care less what they say, when they say it or where they say it, when it comes to political correctness, I fall somewhere near the middle.
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  •     Although it might disappoint both those who feel the need to be politically correct at all times as well those who couldn't care less what they say,  when they say it or where they say it, when it comes to political correctness, I fall somewhere near the middle.   
        I do lean a little toward the political correct side when it comes to the notion on the "incorrect" side that times never really change. Or that when they do change, even in a major way, we should pretend that the times haven't change or disregard the fact that they have changed.    
        That's what comes to mind when team nicknames and mascots are constantly debated in our society. When the name "Redskins" was selected for the professional football franchise that still carries the name and logo today, certainly no one meant to offend anyone. But that was then...way, way back then, and this is now. It offends a lot of people who are Native American. It also bothers non-Native Americans who simply realize that there are a gazillion team nicknames out there that don’t bother anyone, so why stick with one that does?   
        My wife and I are trying to raise two sons who are sensitive to the world around them while at the same time not being mute. But sometimes it takes more than a parent trying to hammer home a point with their kids to really teach them something.   
        Take the word "retarded." Is it a bad word? An offensive, hostile or abusive word? A word that should never be uttered or written again by anyone on the planet? Hard to say.   
        But what I can say is that I never gave using the word "retarded" a second thought many years ago. If it casually came up in conversation, it casually came up and that was that. Sure, the phrase "mentally challenged" really started to gain steam years ago, but I don't recall there being a big, vocal push to use "mentally challenged" at the expense of "retarded."   
        And then I heard Tim Shriver speak.   
        It was in Seattle, at the national service learning conference I attended when I worked at the U of M Crookston. It was one of those first-thing-in-the-morning plenary sessions to kick-start a day filled with breakout group discussions on various topics, and my primary goal was to ingest copious amounts of coffee.   
        Shriver, the head of Special Olympics, was the speaker, and early on in his talk I went from little more than a casual observer to an engaged listener. Basically, Shriver wanted every single person in the huge convention hall to never, ever again utter the word "retarded," and he got a little emotional in making his plea.   
    Page 2 of 2 -     I was sold. After all, how tough would it be to remove that single word from my vocabulary? It’s not like Shriver was asking us to never say “the” again.   
        But, I decided, not only would I not say the word, I would, as Shriver urged us to do, encourage others whom I heard from that point on say "retarded" to no longer say it.        
        But then, hearkening back the ground I've staked out in the middle of the political correctness road, Shriver overcooked his message a bit when he also encouraged us to not say "disability" and, instead, replace that term with "diffability," as in people, such as Special Olympics participants, simply possess different abilities than others.   
        I'm all for not saying certain, established words if the changing times have dictated that maybe we could get by without saying them any longer. But making up new words – you know, like important terms such as "selfie" and "twerk" – I have to draw the line somewhere.   
        Which brings us to "needy." It's long amazed me how, in this age of such heightened concern about not making anyone feel bad anywhere at any time, the word "needy" is able to survive largely unscathed.    
        If you have cancer and your medical bills are unfathomably huge and your friends and family organize a benefit for you, are you “needy”? Or could you just use some help and you’re more than grateful to get it? If you and your family for whatever reason hit a rough spot and money is not just tight, but you simply don't have enough to pay the bills, gas up the car and put food on the table, would you want to be known to the masses as "needy"? If you got some help with the bills, filling up the car and stocking the kitchen with food, maybe being labeled as "needy" would be a tradeoff you'd be willing to live with.   
        But, still...   
        Can't we just say or write "kids in need" or "families in need" instead of “needy” all the time, especially during the season of giving at the holidays?    
        People struggle for all kinds of reasons from time to time. It doesn’t make them needy. They could just use a helping hand.

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