Think before you speak. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don’t call people names. When we’re growing up, we are bombarded with statements such as these to learn how to get along with other people. We learn our words are enough to inspire, to heal and…to hurt and we must know the difference. So, why is it we forget about these “rules” once we’re adults?
One evening a friend and I tuned into an entertainment show highlighting the now greatly publicized controversy on Grey’s Anatomy. In a nutshell, one of the actors on the show blew out a negative expletive about gay people in front of one of his colleagues, who happens to be gay. He denied saying it, of course, causing an up roar in the gay community as well as tension among his co-stars.
“Can you believe that?” I scoffed
“I know,” my friend responded with a dramatic eye roll. “Is our society becoming too sensitive and too politically correct? It was just a word.”
“Just a word”? I was floored. Words like that cause anger, hurt and confusion. They cause fights, riots and wars. They can even give one person enough fuel to kill another person. Just words? I beg to differ. My friend’s statement triggered an hour-long debate with my ending it by asking him:
“Would you want one of your children calling someone else that word?”
Silence. Interesting how someone who can’t see using fighting words as wrong in general but would be horrified to know his child has used them.
Fighting words cut deep and cause a person not only to be hurt but to feel ashamed of who they are. When you punch someone, a bruise is formed but, eventually, it fades and disappears. When you call someone a name aimed at their culture, religion or sexuality, you are puncturing the core of their existence – something that can’t be changed with cosmetic surgery or studying a little harder.
When children see a person, especially someone they respect or admire, abuse another person or hear a racial slur, they’ll believe it’s ok. It’s not ok to hurt someone intentionally; it’s not ok to belittle someone and make them feel ashamed of who they are; it’s not ok to hate; and it’s not ok for one person to feel they have the power to do these things.
How can we teach the “right way” of dealing with people? Here are a few tips:
(1)Lead by example. If you don’t want your child to say certain things, swear, or act a certain way, how are you acting? Little eyes are always watching.
(2)Explain. There are examples of people who use certain derogatory words among their own groups. The child needs to understand it’s never ok to use such words…not even among their own peer groups. After all, how can a person be upset being called a racial remark if they’re using them too, even jokingly.
(3)Answer questions openly and honestly. If the child sees the words in print or hears them on television, talk about it. Children need to incorporate things into their own “schemas” so be honest and be willing to listen.
(4) Tell them the right words to use. We don’t have to go overboard here but explain the proper way to address certain groups in general conversation (like African-American or Jewish). But do be careful when explaining this to a child because using such titles too much can be insulting as well. You want your child to say “this is my friend Bob” not “this is my African-American friend Bob”. A person is a person first – their culture is what makes them special.
My four-year old daughter, Jaimie, told her sister, Jordhan, to “shut up” then called her “stupid”. Jordhan started to cry then punched Jaimie in the stomach. After calming both girls down, I explained to Jaimie that she can’t talk to Jordhan, or anyone, this way because it hurts feelings.
Jaimie said: “But, Mama, dat girl fwom dat Disney moobee said dat and peoples laughed. Everybody was happy she said it. Why not Jaimie say it?”
Now I don’t have to tell her it’s because someone at Disney, like my friend, thought it was “just a word”. In fact, if you ask Jaimie about it today she’ll tell you that you shouldn’t use them because “them’s fightin’ words”.
No truer words have ever been spoken.