"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Never Calling A Spade A Spade–The Feel-Good Language Of Sugarcoating

“Jason’s dumb”, said Marjorie Fisher.

“We don’t use that kind of language in this house”, replied her mother.

Since her children were little, Betsy Fisher had tried to teach them respect for others and as importantly, the language of respect.  She had no tolerance for either dismissive attitudes of others or the pejorative terms used to describe them.  ‘Dumb’, ‘stupid’, and ‘ugly’ had no place in a proper lexicon, and given the harm to the self-confidence and self-esteem caused by them to others, they were just as bad as the N-word or any other racial or ethnic slurs. 

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Mrs. Fisher, however, did not stop there and included even more temperate and neutral terms on her list of forbidden descriptions.  In fact any adjective that cast a child or adult in a negative light was discouraged, no matter how accurate it might be.  A  boy could never be called ‘short’ or ‘fat’.  A girl’s hair was never ‘frizzy’.    No child was timid, shy, or loud.  Mr. Harris, the mailman, did not tilt when he walked.  Dr. Pinckney, the pediatrician, did not have a beak for a nose; nor did Mr. Blanchard, the third-grade teacher, have bow legs.

Such descriptions, however physically accurate had no place in anyone’s vocabulary. They were ascribed attributes which only served to further isolate individuals within stigmatizing categories.  Society, according to Mrs. Fisher, was already segmented and subdivided enough by economic status, race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin without adding physical appearance, ability, and personality to the mix.

“But he is dumb”, Marjorie insisted.  “He can’t add.  He can’t subtract and he can’t read.”
This was too much for Mrs. Fisher. Apparently little or nothing of her teaching had sunk in, and Marjorie was as childish, opinionated, and inconsiderate of others as her classmates.

What was so hard for the child to understand? It seemed clear enough to Mrs. Fisher that demeaning, dismissive, and summary epithets were cruel and selfish.  No child was ignorant, unattractive, or inept.  Each had his or her own particular qualities, and it was only right and Christian to discover and encourage them.  Language is not simply a means of expression but an instrument of either compassion or hate; and never the neutral and amoral ‘free speech’ insisted upon by social conservatives.

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“But Jason is dumb”, Marjorie complained.

Mrs. Fisher knew Jason Detwiler and had to admit that of all the children in the second grade, he was the one who put her convictions most to the test.  He was neither mentally challenged nor afflicted by palsy.  He had no particular learning disability which caused him to see sentences backward or read the same line repeatedly without understanding it.  He was simply slower to catch on than his classmates, missed intellectual cues, and seemed to see more blank space than filled. 

She searched for one of many multiple intelligences which might describe the boy; but he was neither particularly talented in drawing, music, or athletics.  He was stuck on stick figures well past kindergarten, was always last to be chosen on the playground, and had a croaking, disruptive voice with no sense of tone, rhythm, or musicality.

In her solitude, Mrs. Fisher agreed that Jason Detwiler was dumb.  As dumb as a stone she admitted, now that her progressive reservoir had been breached and there was no  holding back her conclusions.  Yes, there were some children – and now that she thought about it many adults - who simply were with little if any redeeming value.  If one were honest, the unvarnished truth was that they were indeed dumb, ugly, and stupid.

Once she had finally admitted the truth, she felt both guilty and relieved. Guilty because she had broken a contract with herself and more importantly with her progressive society.  For years she had respected the moral code and the commandment to be fair, just, non-judgmental, and compassionate in all her dealings. Only if one never deviated from this path could society and mankind itself ever improve.  Society must be rid of all corrosive, damaging, and hurtful intent.

Relieved because deep down she knew that society was structurally unfair, segmented by social, economic, and cultural tranche since the Paleolithic.  Survival of the fittest meant not only that the strongest, most virile, and fearless succeeded, prospered, and procreated; but the most intelligent, the most physically appealing, the most talented, and the most insightful.

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Jason Detwiler had none of the above.  In an animal society he would have been culled years ago; but he lived in a human one which tolerated him and offered him only notional help and that only reluctantly.

Which of course was the problem.  Mrs. Fisher and her colleagues refused to dismiss the Jason Detwilers of the world so summarily.  According to their credo no one, even the most ill-favored, was without some redeeming value.  The more spiritual among Mrs. Fisher’s group felt that a God-given soul was more than enough reason to show support, compassion, and good will to the least-favored.

The school that Marjorie attended was one that prided itself on its espousal of progressive values.  It had been on the avant-garde of affirmative action, had installed disability access long before it had been mandated, eliminated all academic hierarchies and a program of cooperative learning where the more able students helped those less fortunate, policed the playground for bullying, introduced gender-neutral pronouns, and assisted any and all students who wished to transition to do so.  In short, it was a model school for progressive values.

Which made Marjorie’s outburst all the more surprising.  If despite her family orientation and her disciplined school program she still persisted in old, discredited ways, something had to be missing.  But what?

Mrs. Fisher’s conclusion came after  what she later called the ‘Jason Detwiler epiphany’ - it is better to call a spade a spade and let society do the Darwinian work it had for millennia. Jason was dumb and the sooner he faced facts the better.  Sooner or later he would have to shape up, find some way to survive and even prosper on his own. 

Diana Vreeland by her own admission was an ugly women; and not only that, she had the misfortune of having a beautiful sister who was doted upon by her father and sought-after by every boy in school.  Yet despite this unexpected genetic accident and the social handicap that came as a result (no matter how much feminists claimed that beauty meant nothing and was only a meaningless social construct, it was a significant, irrevocable marker for social status)  she became America’s arbiter of fashion, editing Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar during the age of American style.  She married well, became a vital and desirable member of New York society, and was envied by far more attractive and physically desirable women. 

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She achieved such success on her own through ambition, talent, and a refusal to accept her ugliness as a liability. There were no programs of self-esteem to help her along.

It was women like these, Mrs. Fisher thought, that demonstrated how with ingenuity, social adeptness, and talent, women could indeed make people ignore if not forget how they looked. 

This same competitiveness should work for everyone if only they faced facts, accepted them, and designed a personal performance program to suit their abilities however slight they might be.

Society’s obligation is only to care for those who cannot survive on their own; those who through severe lack of ability and intelligence, cannot make their way ahead.  Their numbers should be relatively few, however, for even those under the weak end of the bell curve have enough innate competitiveness and survival instincts to find their way.

Such a fend-for-yourself moral attitude is by no means callous or unchristian. In fact it is the best incentive for most people to make the best of what they have been born with.

If Mrs. Fisher’s child- as smart, perceptive, and insightful as any - could, after so many years of careful tutelage and progressive education, still dismiss Jason Detwiler as dumb, the entire ethos of inclusivity and irrational support had to be seriously questioned. 

Mrs. Fisher never gave up entirely on the progressive agenda. She still hoped for, if no longer believed in the eventuality of progress; but she was unwilling to let a subjective political agenda cloud her practical, clear, and logical vision.

She did change Marjorie’s school to one which had returned to the 3 R’s, insisted on academic excellence, let boys be boys and girls be girls, policed less and encouraged more, and let human nature have its way.

Mrs. Fisher felt just fine about this change of course.  She was happy to be done with inclusivity cant and pay the interventionist intentions of her former colleagues no mind.  At first the accusations of racism, sexism, eugenics, and homophobia hurt; but as she gained confidence, she ignored them completely. 

"See, Mommy”, said Marjorie.  “I told you so.  Jason is a dum-dum”.

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