The old chant, "Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," has never really been true. Words do hurt, yet everyone has been caught speaking without thinking. Whether it's calling some kid "retarded" or saying, "that's so gay" when your friend says something dumb, what we say matters.
This message is not a new one. Adults keep telling us to not use certain words that might be hurtful. We see it through ads on TV with Wanda Sykes and Hillary Duff as well as on posters in our schools. But most kids don't think it's a big deal, and that's because people don't make it enough of one. In the hallways and classrooms of our schools, hurtful words are casually thrown around, and it's a problem that needs to be addressed -- now.
Hearing someone being called "retarded" is a common occurrence in most high schools. It's a word that has become a synonym for stupid and it is used far too often. Just because someone is developmentally or intellectually disabled does not mean those words do not hurt them. The use of the word "retarded" just perpetuates a negative image of a group that is often invisible even in our own schools. Not to mention that we never know how others around us will hear that word. What if other students have a sister or an uncle with Down syndrome? How will hearing those words affect them? It is so important that we think before we speak.
One of the civil rights issues of our generation is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, whether it be gay marriage or "Don't ask, don't tell," and everyone has an opinion about it. No matter what our personal beliefs are, every time one of us says, "That's so gay," we have no idea who we are hurting. Many of us know someone who is gay -- a family member or friend -- and using that language just makes it hard on everyone whether they admit or not. Saying "that's so gay" or using even more hateful words in its place is derogatory and hurtful.
This is an issue that is ignored far too often. Pretending we don't use these words is exactly what makes many of us believe it's "no big deal." The first step is to educate ourselves, not just because we want to be politically correct but also because we want to be part of a school where everyone is accepted. That will not happen unless we all decide to do something. Our words can hurt, and we must never forget that.
Justice Namaste is a junior at Williamsville East High School.