Once upon a time, a pig and a bunny were walking together through the woods, when up ahead they spotted a wolf in the middle of the path. The wolf was shaking his phone and growling.
“Hold my hand,” said the pig. The bunny reached up and took the pig’s hand.
“The company guarantees coverage everywhere,” complained the wolf. “But as soon as you walk into the woods, you drop to just one bar. That’s so retarded!”
The pig sighed and stopped walking. She looked down at the bunny. From the way his ears sagged, she knew he had heard.
“Would you mind not using that word?” asked the pig politely.
“What word?” the wolf demanded, holding his phone high in the air.
“‘Retarded.’ You see, my stepson is learning disabled, and it’s hurtful when–”
“Sounds like your stepson needs to grow a thicker skin,” said the wolf.
The pig clutched the bunny’s hand tighter. “He came home a year ago, crying, and asked me, ‘What does retarded mean, mama?’ The kids tease him every day on the bus. He won’t say anything in class anymore, because he’s afraid of being laughed at even more.”
“Tell him to stop being so sensitive,” said the wolf. “You’re not doing him any favors by coddling him.”
“Why can’t other people just stop saying hurtful things?” asked the pig.
The wolf simply growled.
The pig’s shoulders sank slightly, and she walked on, leaving the wolf to his phone. It wasn’t long before they encountered a second wolf. She was reading a yellow flyer posted to a tree. When she saw the pig and the bunny, she grinned and pointed.
“Look at this,” she said. “These people are offering a reward for their lost dog, but they can’t even spell. They’re so retarded!”
The pig sighed. She looked ahead, then looked down at her stepson. The bunny was staring at the ground, but she could tell by the set of his ears that he had heard.
“Would you mind not using that word?” asked the pig.
“What word?” the wolf demanded, ripping the flyer off the tree.
“‘Retarded.’ You see, my stepson is learning disabled, and it’s hurtful when people use that word in such a derogatory way.”
“I see,” said the wolf. “Please educate me so that I can decide whether or not to stop using this word that hurts you and your stepson.”
The pig’s shoulders slumped a little more, but she looked up at the wolf and did her best. For the next hour, while the bunny played in the dirt, she talked about the challenges her stepson had faced. She talked about how hard it was to get people to treat her stepson with respect, how society treated the mentally challenged as a joke, as stupid or defective.
“I see,” said the wolf. “But don’t we all have challenges? Don’t we all have someone who refuses to respect us? Don’t we all get laughed at sometimes? You might be surprised to know that I have a very good friend who’s a bunny, and she uses the word ‘retarded’ all the time.”
“What does it cost you to use a different word?” asked the pig.
“Nothing,” said the wolf. “But you have failed to adequately educate me, so I will continue to use the word that hurts you and your stepson.”
The pig took the bunny’s hand, and they walked on, leaving the wolf to laugh at the flyer.
They were almost home when they spotted a third wolf. This wolf was reading a book and laughing. “Oh my goodness,” he said, glancing up. “The grown-ups in this book are so retarded!”
The pig sighed and stopped walking. She looked down at the bunny. His ears were now completely flat on his back.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d stop using that word,” said the pig.
“What word?” the wolf demanded, slipping a leaf into the pages to mark his place.
“‘Retarded.’ You see–”
“You can’t tell me what to say. I have freedom of speech!”
“I understand that,” said the pig. “But I’m trying to tell you that you’re hurting people by using that word.”
“It doesn’t hurt me, and I can say whatever I want! If you don’t like it, you should go back to pig country.”
The pig looked at the bunny, who was staring at the dirt. She looked at the wolf, who towered over them both. She looked past the wolf, to where the path emerged from the woods into a field.
The pig took a deep breath and said, “Mister wolf, I understand what you’re saying, but you are hurting my stepson, and you are hurting me. Mister wolf, you are a jackass.”
The wolf bared his teeth. “You can’t say that to me!”
“I thought we had freedom of speech,” said the pig.
One of the wolf’s ears flicked backward. “Well, you’ll never convince people to do what you want by calling them names.”
“So how should I convince them?” the pig asked. She waited, but the wolf didn’t answer. He opened his book and continued to read.
The pig looked at her stepson. Her shoulders slumped lower. Holding the bunny’s hand tightly, she walked on.
When they reached the edge of the field, the bunny looked up and said, “Mama?”
The pig scooped the bunny into her arms and hugged him, hoping he wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes. “What is it, sweetheart?”
“I love you.”
For a long time, the pig merely stood there, holding her stepson. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Slowly, she straightened her shoulders. She kissed the bunny on the head and pet his ears. “I love you too.”
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.