Anti-bullying campaigns in schools have been teaching children that physical violence and protracted campaigns to hurt another student physically are not tolerated, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, these campaigns also elevate verbal bullying to the same status, teaching kids that words can hurt just as much as punches. In doing so, they give more power to words than they should ever hold. “Bones heal,” they say, “emotional scars don’t.”
What would happen then, if we were to give children the tools to deal with words and take away their apparently omnipotent traits? Have we created a generation of victims by telling them it’s OK to be completely devastated by a word? That the person who said it should be punished, regardless of intent? By reinforcing this victimhood behaviour with the satisfaction of seeing the person punished harshly all the while being coddled and affirmed? How is this the preferred course of action? Rather than telling that child that it’s OK to feel sad or offended, that they shouldn’t allow someone to hold so much power over them, that their entire day is ruined because someone carelessly or even deliberately said something mean? Words hold only as much power as we allow them to hold.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This used to be what we taught our children when someone had said something hurtful to them. Lately, it seems this age old idiom has lost its meaning, relegated to the obscurity of history, a phrase with no purpose.
Now, we are being taught that words hurt irreparably. We are told that people who say offensive things should be held to account for the emotional reactions of those who heard or saw it, should they choose to be offended. And yes, being offended is a choice. Nothing happens. In fact, some people choose to be offended at words that have nothing to do with them. Choosing to be offended on behalf of someone else, who may not actually be offended because it is such a subjective emotion, and therefore implying some degree of moral superiority. To choose to be offended on behalf of another implies you believe they aren’t as strong or superior as you, too weak to have their own voice.
Victim culture has a stranglehold on our university campuses, in our news media and even our social media feeds. While most of us live our lives within the bounds of reason, getting on with our lives and achieving our goals unobstructed, there is a subset of people who thrive on being offended, outraged and ‘shaming’ others. People who can take innocuous conversations and turn the person who dared say the wrong thing into some evil (insert ‘-ist’ word), even if the evil intent was absent.
It seems as though the people who are most offended at any given comment are white, middle class university students. That is to say, the people who have the least to be unhappy about, who have been taught from an early age that words hurt more than physical violence, and who have a history of superiority complexes in general.
For instance, there is a video doing the rounds on YouTube where a man enquires as to why the college students believe voter ID laws in the US are racist. The answers he receives are quite shallow, very ignorant and at times outright racist. “They might not have internet access or be able to read to be able to get an ID.” “Perhaps they can’t afford it, or can’t afford to get to the place that issues ID.” He then interviews a few very patient black people, asking them if these answers are accurate. Every one of them has ID. They all have internet on their smartphones. They all drive or have access to transport.
What this shows is a level of ignorance thinly veiled behind good intentions. How can those people be offended for other groups of people when the group in question is not offended themselves? They can’t, and that is the paradox of victimhood culture; if you have nothing to be offended by, find something you can bitch about on behalf of others. Nevermind the fact that this requires them to hold prejudice in the first place, since you can’t be offended for others without first believing they are of lesser status than yourself. The moral guardians of the galaxy have experienced the warm fuzzy feeling of being coddled, the sweet success of watching someone be punished because they made them sad for a minute, and crave more.
Verbal bullying is real. It can be quite devastating when one is on the receiving end of a protracted campaign of verbal harassment. It does make one wonder though, had we taught these kids that it’s OK to be sad, but not to let words have that much power over you or else the bully wins, then perhaps this current generation wouldn’t be so hell bent on creating victims of themselves and others. Maybe they wouldn’t be so against free speech and more willing to listen to opposing ideas and have the ability to debate them respectfully. Perhaps they would be more focused on fixing the very real problems facing the world if they weren’t so focused on the perceived subtext of innocent conversations. It’s sad that this seems like a utopia we may never realise, held back by a new dark age of feelings over facts.
Teach our children to be strong, to give power only to those who deserve it, and that it’s OK to be sad or offended, but never OK to censor. For censoring the bullies only pushes them into the shadows where we won’t be able to see the nasty personalities developing.