There are many things out there to adopt. A quick google search of "adopt a" reveals programs to adopt a pet, minefield, platoon, manatee, classroom, greyhound, chick, and...somewhat more mysterious in how you go about the adoption process...a demon. And this is just on the first page.
It isn't until the last entry on page 2 that you actually get to adopting a child. You first need to read about adopting a native elder, highway, and even a "useless blob." Sure makes the children of this world feel special.
The brilliant and lovely Jane at Plain Jane Mom has a fantastic post about this issue on her blog. How does one explain to their child the intense love created through adoption when one can also adopt "a filthy highway or a zoo animal?"
Adoption has replaced the idea of sponsorship in our language. Usually, when one "adopts" a road or minefield, they are agreeing to either throw money at the situation or spend a few hours a week cleaning up a mess. And while I love pets as much as the next person, there is something profoundly strange about using the same word to describe the process of bringing home a dog from a shelter vs. a human from an orphanage. Perhaps it is this twist in linguistics that makes people believe that you can always "just adopt."
Jane's post about the misuse of the word "adoption" goes hand-in-hand with the move towards positive adoption language and the idea that the words we use reveal our thoughts on the subject at hand. Phrases such as real mother, own child, or abandon say more about the thoughts of the speaker than they do about the situation. Are people who are cavalierly tossing around the word adoption simply not aware of the larger implications this has for adoptive parents and adopted children? Are people who ask "is she your own child?" not aware of how this makes the child and the parent feel?
So this is what it comes down to in the end: can anyone truly be verbally sensitive to every group or person out there? Do we only become sensitive on the subjects that affect us emotionally? In the comments section, other readers pointed out their own linguistic pet peeves including the term "starving" (thanks, Melanie). How does speaking in hyperbole about your hunger affect those suffering from true starvation?
It's a question I ask because I try to be sensitive but often wonder if by default, I (like everyone else) fall flat. And you know I always like a good reason to beat myself up. I'm realistic that no one is perfect, but are even people who attempt to be sensitive and thoughtful from point one really no more successful than people who give no thought to their words? Jane's post opened my eyes and made me see those adopt-a-highway signs in an entirely new light--one which I hadn't considered when I read her post even though adoption is in the forefront of my mind. Is it humanly possible to reduce the amount of time you offend? Can one person's affront be another person's kindness--and how do you speak neutrally without going insane?
It's a fair question because part of my book is about what not to say. It's more difficult to discuss what will be helpful for everyone. But there has been some general consensus as to what is hurtful and unhelpful. And if it's truly not possible to speak sensitively in the broadest sense of the word, then why should I ever be upset with someone when they say something that hurts me? I'm basing this book on the idea that people want to learn. They want to get along with other people and they don't want to offend. So, obviously, I would like the answer to this question to be, "yes, Melissa, we can become sensitive if people give us the right guidance."
Does it just come down this: there is obviously a difference between those who use words without knowing and those who use words after being elucidated in terms of the offensiveness factor. If this is true, if I used the word adopt in terms of a highway yesterday, is it understandable? But is it only now offensive if I keep using this word every time I write to Jane knowing how she feels about the subject? And then where do we draw the line--are there things that are offensive before the educating begins? Or do we forgive all words that come before a person has been told otherwise?
Being a human is difficult. Being a communicating human is even harder.
Hardest still is wrapping your mind around the line between giving people a break and feeling offended.