The power of words
Stephens’ open letter should serve as an example
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
We should all learn a lesson from John Franklin Stephens.
Ann Coulter, the Conservative queen of political punditry, has once again been receiving backlash for the last week following a couple of unsurprisingly offensive tweets. During Monday night’s debate, she wrote, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”
A day later, she struck again: “Obama: "Stage 3 Romneysia" - because cancer references are HILARIOUS. If he's "the smartest guy in the room" it must be one retarded room.”
While the “Twitterverse” reacted with equally harsh retorts, Stephens, a 30-year old Special Olympics athlete with Down syndrome, responded with humor, poetic guilt, and kindness. He reasoned through her use of the r-word, wondering if she meant to describe the President as somebody “who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next”
Now that’s how you respond to viciousness.
The letter has been circulating for the last three days with good reason. Stephens put more into that letter in less than 400 words than Coulter has been able to do in nine books and countless articles. She will probably never address it and maybe never pay it any attention, but despite all that and despite her words, Stephens ended his letter with a chance to let bygones be bygones, addressing it as “a friend you haven’t made yet.”
Anyone can respond in the heat of the moment with anger and outrage, and many people – especially through social media – proved that. But that moment can’t be changed or taken back. Unlike Coulter, some people don’t want their legacy to be negative or hurtful. So in the heat of the moment, Stephens responded not with anger but with love and pride.
The good in people prevails.
There’s so much to admire in Stephens’ piece because not many people could or would react like that. The old adage of “sticks and stones” will never be true. Words are the most powerful weapons we have – they can heal us and hurt us, inspire us and destroy us. Every bruise and cut will heal, but an insult hurled on the wrong day can cause so much more damage. But with our words, we also have the power to come back from those insults and respond so much more beautifully and eloquently.
In at least one point in your life, you have probably used the r-word as an insult. Hopefully by now you’ve outgrown it, but maybe not. Maybe you’ve used it to describe your friends, your homework, your town. It slips off the tongue and for you, it disappears in the air, but for some it lingers. For some it hurts, but if it did for Stephens, we will never know the full extent.
As for Ann Coulter, her tweets just further show the content of her character. She will talk until people stop listening, fueled by justifiable outrage. It is pitiful. And pitiable. She wakes up everyday with everything going for her, and she takes it for granted. On the other hand, Stephens wrote this: “Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.”
It’s all about how you react to such hate and nonsense, and he turned this into just a speck in time. That’s a badge of honor in itself.