Archive for December, 2018

Challenged

A few weeks ago I was standing in line at a local restaurant, and in front of me were several women from a home for the mentally ill.  I presume they’ve been mentally ill all their life and are so impaired that they cannot live independently and need constant attention.  It appeared that a couple of workers from the home were also there, and shepherded the women around.  They kept them from wandering away, payed for their meal, prepared a plate of food for them, and so forth.  I referred to these women as mentally “retarded,” but was corrected by someone else who used the term mentally “challenged.”

Now I’m certainly glad to see the term “retarded” be discontinued.  It has become a derogatory term more than anything else nowadays, though I used it merely to indicate that I thought the brains of these women were damaged in some way, either physically or chemically, and did not intend for it to mean anything else.  Most likely these women have been brain damaged from birth, and their brain function has never reached what we would call “normal.”  (I’m not going to define that word.)

“Retarded” has been replaced by “challenged” as the politically correct term of choice.  But I’m not sure that’s the best word for this situation.  To me it doesn’t fit.

“Challenged” carries the connotation of knowledge of the trials that lies before one.  There’s an actual mental recognition of the challenge, whether one accepts it or not.  It’s a challenge to climb Mt. Everest; it’s a challenge to learn to scuba dive; it was a challenge to put a man on the moon; it was a challenge for Lindbergh to fly the Atlantic in a one-engine airplane; it’s a challenge to grow old; it’s a challenge to get up every morning and go to work.  But the women in front of me probably had no idea of the life situation they were in.  I presume their brains were damaged from birth, and to them, their life is what it is.  They may not be aware that they have a mental disability.  So I ask, is it appropriate to use the term “challenged” in such a situation?  Do they really have a challenge before them?  Are they cognizant of the “challenge” of the life ahead of them?

A challenge is a looking forward, with either anticipation or dread, but always forward to the trial to come.  A person injured in an automobile accident may be confined to a wheelchair, and might be considered “mobility challenged,” but there is a recognition of the challenge ahead.  For someone who cannot look ahead, who does not have the mental facility to understand that there is a challenge ahead of them, is it appropriate to say they are “challenged?”  I maintain that when the knowledge component is missing, the definition does not fit.  You cannot be challenged without your knowledge.

I’ve looked through dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?) but haven’t come up with a better term.  Anybody have any suggestions?

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