It’s difficult to take back words once in print

Editor October 24, 2016 Comments Off on It’s difficult to take back words once in print
It’s difficult to take back words once in print

Have you ever regretted something you said? Maybe you regret how you said it, or the timing of it. Maybe you regret saying anything at all in the first place.
I think most can relate to this. As a writer, I get the pleasure of occasionally saying something I regret in print. When that happens, I usually try to forget about it. Let’s delete that file from the memory, I tell myself, although my mind still revisits the awful column I wrote in my college newspaper, criticizing a run-down area of town as being unattractive. Back then I never stopped to consider I was using poverty as a punchline for a bad joke.
Yuck.
So unlike Frank Sinatra, whose regrets were “too few to mention,” I have too many regrets to mention when it comes to words I wish I could take back.
I wrote a column last year about the St. Tammany Parish school system’s special education department. In it, I criticized the district’s practices regarding inclusion of students with disabilities in a regular education classroom. To sum up, I said the district needs to work harder to provide more time for students with special needs in inclusive environments. It was very personal, that column, as I have a son with an intellectual disability.
I don’t like to reread that column. Not because I’ve had a change of heart—I haven’t—but I wish I would have expressed myself without the bite and sarcasm.
Inclusion is a difficult topic with many layers to it. To successfully include a child with significant cognitive challenges into a regular ed class requires time, personnel, training, money, paradigm shifts—it’s not easy. But my point isn’t to write about inclusion, my point is that I wish I had written differently about inclusion a year ago.
A parent of a child with special needs reached out to me after the column ran, worried I was furthering a great divide between parents and the school district, that I was encouraging an “us versus them” mentality.
I dismissed her words and dug in my heels, reassuring myself that I WAS RIGHT.
But with hindsight, I wonder. Maybe I was right, but maybe it didn’t matter. Right or not, some of my words were cloaked in bitterness and accusations, and words like that can be hard to hear.
The director of special education called me after my column ran, and invited me to her office because she wanted to hear more. She was kind and friendly, and while we disagreed on some issues, the tone of our phone conversation was pleasant. We never managed to schedule that face-to-face discussion, but I appreciated her warm demeanor and willingness to ask questions.
I’m not sure why I’m sharing this with y’all today, except to say I think about those words I wrote—they were important words about a subject that means a lot to me. But maybe they weren’t the right words, and that bothers me. Maybe they were unfair.
The thing about words—there aren’t any take-backs. They can’t be unsaid or unwritten. Even if we wish they could.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at sliindelife@gmail.com.)

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