In my early years I was taught a memorable rhyme. It went like this: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
What a joyful refrain! From these words we gained the confidence to deal with whatever petty verbal aggression might confront us on the playground or in our school’s hallways.
Many from my generation will fondly remember the “Sticks and Stones” rhyme. Many benefited from the attitude implicit in those words, not just as children, but as adults later in life. Hurtful words? Ignore them. They are too trivial to warrant response.
So where are we today? Unfortunately, the notion that words cannot hurt us has been pushed aside in favor of a kind of self-victimization. We no longer rely on a natural confidence in our own identity to shield us from harsh or hurtful words. No, just the opposite. Today, we are being told that we are victims, that we should be offended by hurtful words. Being a victim is preferable to being a secure and confident individual. Poor baby!
More troubling, individual victimhood has morphed to include collective victimhood. This is rapidly becoming a problem of national proportions.
Look at me, for example. The hypothetical pain that I might have suffered could easily be adopted by a whole class of individuals. How so? I am an Average White Man. As such, it is conceivable that I ought to be offended by the rock band called Average White Band. Oh, woe is me! Will there be a class action lawsuit to compensation me and other average white men for the devastating hurt that we have collectively suffered?
What about sports teams? Many have names that are said to have caused irreparable damage to certain groups of people.
Statues commemorating long departed American figures are said to offend. Streets named for historic icons somehow cause emotional harm.
How did this happen? How did we move from a jovial sense of self-reliance and pride to a culture of victimhood? How did we get to this place where mere words cause so much pain?
For answers, look closely at instances where victimhood has flourished. Two trends emerge. First, in today’s world, victimhood is easy. We are encouraged to seek offense from a long list of supposedly hurtful words or phrases. The message is clear. It is cool to be a victim. Furthermore, social media allow us to broadcast our pain to friends and to the world beyond.
Second, being a victim can be profitable. In a lawsuit filed against the Central Lee Community School District, the parents of a student alleged that “The threats of C.M. (the alleged bully) to H.S. (their child, the alleged victim) have become so severe and ongoing that H.S. is [in] fear of [their] safety every day. This includes riding the bus as well as while at school. The threats and harm perpetrated upon H.S. have begun to affect ability to concentrate at school and properly complete [their] school work. The threats and harm perpetrated upon H.S. now affect H.S’s ability to obtain an education.” The parents are asking the court “to permanently prohibit the two students from having any contact with each other as well as any other relief the court might deem just and equitable” (emphasis added).
Go ahead, tally the dollars skimmed by Trial Lawyers. That total would probably exceed the national debt.
The profit motive could easily be applied to non-monetary interests, as well.
Want to discredit a politician or a political appointee? All you need to do is dig into his past,
select a few words or phrases out of context and broadcast them to the world. Doesn’t even have to be factual. Once it is out there, it’s out there.
We were once impervious to trivial slights. We did not feel compelled to tweet every time someone had a bad word to say about us. We could ignore meaningless jabs and not get sucked into retaliatory name calling. Are those days gone forever?
Do we just totter off into the sunset and accept these damaging trends, asking other generations to deal with them? Or do we re-assert ourselves and reject the notion that mere words can hurt us? Which would you choose? It is within your power to set a positive example for others who might be inclined to choose victimhood. Next time you hear that so-and-so’s words are offensive, laugh and say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
(As much as I would like to claim credit, I am not the one who originated this rhyme. In fact, they first appeared in The Christian Recorder, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. That happened in March of 1862. Yeah, I am old but not that old.)