Thursday, March 31, 2011

Words can hurt people


On March 21, 2011 I participated in an event organized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMF) entitled “…But Words Can Hurt Me”. The event is part of The Movement: Political and Social Journeys series. The event was about the power of words, impact of language and racial and sexual epithets. Judging by the attendance and participation, it is a huge success. I write to thank Dr. McDaniels – Wilson (facilitator) and OMC (organizer) for giving us, the participants, much food for thought. Here are some of mine.

Words have meanings, good and bad. At Xavier U., as scholars and students, we are all wordsmiths or persons of letters. In as much as that is true, we need to be careful about when, how and what words we use, for what reasons and on what occasion.

The question I have is this: If “words can hurt” should we ban all hurtful (and hateful) words, such as the “F-----“, “N-----” and “B------”

If we accept “words can hurt” and also find it necessary to vent our anger under certain limited circumstance, the issue is what kind of words that best express our internal turmoil, frustration and anger? More pointedly, are we allowed to use any words intending to hurt others, such as “shame on you.” Alternatively, does saying nasty thing to others (intending to hurt) in a nice way (sarcasm) makes people feel better?

If all hateful “words can (and will) hurt” and if we really want to get rid of the use of such words, the option left is to educate people not to hate. This can be done by improve understanding and heighten toleration. The first can be achieved by better communication. Counter-intuitively, action does not speak louder than words. Action is usually obvious, but intention is always hidden. As to tolerance, I have this advice. When I was a karate sensei I always tell my students, when offended: “take a deep breath, count till ten, and walk away.”

Finally, if the message here is that words (being hurtful) matters, and we should be careful with our words, then we should be as careful with hurtful words as much as feel good ones. If it is inappropriate to use hurtful words (at least when they are not due), neither should we use complimentary words for the undeserving, right?

Should we call United States a peace loving country when we started a war every two or three years and now engage in four armed conflicts at one time? Or, how can the United States call Lyba rebels a liberating force of change when we hardly know anything about them?

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