I had intended to write this piece about how annoying it is these days to have to bite your tongue and not say what’s on your mind for fear of upsetting those who might feel personally aggrieved by your choice of words. I’ve been wanting to write about how I think overly sensitive people should just grow up, grow thicker skins and get on with their lives in spite of what their detractors think of them. The sentiment of the post would be easy, but the structure of it was a little more difficult to get organised in my mind. I’ve decided however that I don’t need to write about that because as we enter the Trump era the boxing match between the easily offended and those who delight in offending is just getting started. Who knows how it will end? That said, I think I should share my thoughts on sensitivities and how I was taught to deal with them.
I grew up in an age when children were “seen and not heard”. That was the law of parenting. Grownups were grownups and children were children. We weren’t included in grown up conversation and we were definitely not invited to express our opinions when the grown ups were talking. I suppose liberals will view this kind of parenting as a form of oppression that leads to a soiling of the ideology that we are all equals. In a way being excluded from the adult goings on of the world caused us kids to develop our own kind of “social order” in our schools and circles of friends. Some kids were higher up the order than others and invariably they would pick on those below them to reassert their dominance. As a kid you would do your best to avoid being picked on by not showing weakness. If you showed weakness (or sensitivity in liberal speak) that was it, you became instant prey for the bullies. So the solution was simple; don’t show your sensitivities and whatever you do, don’t let those above you in the social order know that you got hurt by crying when they called you names, like “skinny” or “fatso” or “four-eyes” or “retard”. Doing that would label you for life and you would never rise up the social order. It was your weakness to bear.
If you got picked on and you went running to your teacher or your parents, the response (unless there had been a physical altercation) was always the same. They’d say “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That was the antidote and it was effective. Having been on both the receiving and doling out ends of name calling myself I can vouch for its working. Whenever somebody called you a name that’s what you responded with. If they carried on calling you the name you just carried on repeating that mantra to them. One of two things would happen next; they’d either get bored and go bug somebody else, or they’d get enraged and biff you one. If it was the latter then that could work in your favour because if they got caught then there would be repercussions for them in the form of adult issued punishments, which were never pleasant, especially at school when corporal punishment was still allowed. Getting a few strokes on your backside (or hands in the case of girls) did wonders to deter the bullies. If they didn’t get caught, well then there was only two things left you could do; run or face up to them and get in a few licks of your own. Nobody I know likes to get hit, even bullies. When you hurt them back they don’t go looking for trouble with you anymore, even if they did get the better of you physically. It’s better for a bully to pick on somebody who doesn’t hit back than somebody who does.
So, physicality aside, this little antidote phrase was effective in bringing some power to those kids suffering with sensitivities. While it didn’t always repel the offence coming from the top of the social order, it did serve to embolden the receivers of trash talk by giving them a figurative bin to store it in. And if you truly subscribed to the sentiment of not letting the name callers get to you by emptying the trash back over their heads, well then you were the winner. Everybody loves a winner. It’s such a pity though, that in this day and age of overt political correctness, some adults have become experts in playing the victim by letting the name calling of others get to them so badly that governments have had to pass laws prohibiting the use of certain types of derisive language. They call it hate speech. These days you’re not even allowed to tell Irish jokes or Van Der Merwe jokes for fear of being branded a ‘phobe of some sort.
In my view that’s a loss for the sensitive because bullies are not going away anytime soon and people who are so easily offended by the language of others are never going to heal. They’re just going to live forever under the protection of their PC band-aid. It would be so much easier for them to take the “sticks and stones” saying to heart instead. Can you imagine having to wear a band-aid for the rest of your life because you can’t stand it when somebody calls you a bad name?