I Challenged a Famous Ethicist… And Changed His Mind.

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About Kari Wagner-Peck

Kari Wagner-Peck is like Erma Bombeck - in that she writes funny about the ordinary and not so much in that she is angry, swears a lot, and has a kid who has Down syndrome. She believes disability is a natural part of life not to be feared or pitied. You can follow her at atypicalson.com and on Twitter @atypicalson.


  1. This is a great story.

    There is always a simple test for word use like this. Is the word or phrase being used pejoratively? If it is, then don’t use it. If it isn’t, it’s probably OK.

    We really don’t need any more arguments about “pansy” literally meaning flower or “fag” being a bundle of sticks or “retard” meaning slowed down. Words change, meanings change–and apparently, so does the mind of at least one well-known ethicist.

    - Gary Dietz

  2. Hi Kari
    Well said:
    “”"”What if character is our greatness? Character levels the playing field. On that field my son competes as an equal among peers. Most days my son would be a champion.”"”"”

  3. Joanna Schroeder says:

    What I love is all the goodness colliding here. You’re out there trying to change a stereotype and end bullying, and he’s able to see that goodness. And he matches it by admitting he was wrong. That’s a huge deal. I love it.

  4. I run a program for adults with disabilities. Parents like you are a challenge to the complacency that sometimes sets in. A sometimes painful and always welcome challenge.

    I suspect that character is an inherited trait, by the way.

  5. Laurie K-B says:

    It’s time to expose the “political correctness gone crazy” argument. It is not about being “politically correct” or not. Using these terms is about feeling better than someone else. It’s about being able to be hurtful and/or nasty in the guise of humour. The more insecure an individual is, the more they find comfort in laughing at or feeling superior to others.
    The test to know if you should use these terms or not?? Not difficult. The old “do unto others as you would have them do to you” sorts it out quite simply.

  6. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I hold a California Psychiatric Technician’s License through the Vocational Nursing Board in the state. I spent around a year and a half caring for severely mentally retarded children, 1976-77. Yes, that’s what they were called in those days. The term had replaced such language as idiot, moron, and so on. Later it was replaced by developmentally disabled, which was fine with me, but this new term was adopted first by organizations that were most distant from direct care. I recall first being informed of the new word (in a snotty way) by a person who worked for a regional center and who had never done direct care. I was tempted to ask him how many butts he’d wiped or if he’d ever done behavior modification, but I managed not to. Yes, many of these terms are not inherently pejorative. They just fall out of fashion. Yes, you can overdo PC.

  7. Hank,

    I would ask you to think back and identify that feeling you experienced when that person spoke to you “in a snotty way”. Clearly it still resonates for you. Then think about the emotion my husband experienced when he over heard our son referred to as “retard” at holiday party they attended. Hank, it not a PC thing. It’s a humanity thing. Best, Kwp

  8. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Hi Keri,

    There’s a world of difference between “retard” and retarded. I agree. I’ve only ever heard “retard” used pejoratively. Usually by subteens. Hank

  9. I do not support the use of insults or any form of judgment and condemnation of another human being. In essence such condemning thoughts and words are purposeless for they only reflect the lack of understanding associated with the person using them. However, I also must stand for the individual’s ability to choose how he or she is defined by the society at large. Just because someone calls a person a name or hurls a judgment, it does not make this reality. If I genuinely and certainly know my source of power (be it spiritual or personal) no one else can take that from me, especially not by a mere word. Words themselves do not hurt, if they are not permitted to cause hurt or be reflected through actions. To take away the word itself is not the problem. One must reeducate the society as a whole, helping them to clearly recognize that to judge or condemn another through any form (mental, verbal or through practice) is purposeless and does not serve our greater good. I truly believe that when we start seeing eachother without any condemnation or separation, then genuine change and peace will flow across this world.

  10. David Ferguson says:

    When I read this article I felt that it was a nice story of redemption and contrition, where an “ethicist” (I imagined an educated and otherwise erudite man) carelessly used the word “retard” and then had it pointed out to him that this was a hurtful term.

    I clicked on the link which showed exactly what this man had written. The bilious hatred and viciousness this man seemed to feel towards the disabled was shocking to me. I think he got off very lightly. He asks that you post his reply to make it public, which seems a lot like image-crafting to me. Throwing money (while gratefully received by whatever charity you choose) at a charity to assuage a guilty conscience can also seem like a surface gesture. In my opinion it would have been best not to have posted his reply online. I think it would have been appropriate for him to have had to reply individually to every mother/father/brother/sister etc of a “fucking retard” (his words) who wrote to him in disgust at his vitriolic and cowardly article.

    That would have been a humbling and self reflective exercise.

    I wish you and your boy the very best.

    • Dear David,

      Author here. First I commend you for actually going to my blog and reading both letters. When this was originally posted on HuffPuff there were a slew of people who didn’t even bother to read my post let alone the letters but showed up via comments just to protect the Rword.

      Second, love your righteous anger.

      I believe Klosterman is sincere but honestly I do not care his intention. I care that things change. The word reflects a hostility toward a group of people many people think are deserving of hatred.

      Whatever you think of his intention Chuck Klosterman has accomplished something profound: No one and I mean no one has done anything that comes close to responding ‘this way’ about ‘that word’.

      There is one person you neglected to include in deserving an apology that Klosterman did – my son. (Yea, I’m a hard ass about that sort of thing.)

      You have no obligation to help me. But if you were so inclined I hope you will share with others what you think of that word.

      Best, kwp

  11. Amazing. Nice work, Kari! Thank you for helping abolish “the R-word.”

  12. Eric Root says:

    I am happy that you informed Mr. Klosterman about how offensive the “r-word” is, but, while owning up to one’s mistakes is unusual in the general population, ethicists are _supposed_ to put a lot of effort into thinking about what is right and what is wrong. He surely holds himself to a standard that when he is wrong, it would be immoral not to admit it. I’m more surprised that his gig allows him to afford the $25k (but then, it wouldn’t be a punishment if it didn’t hurt at all.)


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