Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Personally I have never like that old rhyme. Because I know that I’ve been hurt by words before. The pen is mightier than the sword right? Well now I realize the truth behind that little children's rhyme. It is something we can all learn and apply.

“Words will never hurt me” What does that mean? I don’t think that the person who wrote that was just born bullet proof and invulnerable from the harm words can afflict. Rather, I think the writer realized the power we have. That each one of us has.
We assign words their value, not the person who says them to us. Most people are pretty reasonable when it comes to tolerance, but those are never the people you hear about. We hear about the crazy ones. For example: John Whiley Price. If you are familiar with the world of politics, you might have heard of him.

He, along with ten or so other commissioners, sat at a table in Dallas. They were discussing the problems they had with their new filing system. A man named Ken Mayfeild spoke and made the comment that the system was “like a black hole” because documents were often lost and never seen again. A seemingly harmless metaphor.
But Mr. Price must have seen his opportunity, because he wasted no time. He spoke loudly and said “Excuse me, but you mean a white hole.” He then told the judge that he demanded an apology from Mr. Mayfield. The judge agreed, but Mr. Mayfield refused. He tried to defend himself, saying that he would not apologize for using a scientific term.

The room erupted, and in the commotion Price yelled that one should never use language that could possibly be offensive while in a room full of different races, and that he was personally offended because he was a black man.

After the incident he went on to say that terms such as “black sheep” and “Angels food cake” and “Devils food cake” should be banned and made illegal because he found them offensive. He thought it was an insult to blacks that “Angel’s food cake” is white, while “Devil’s food cake” is black. Now, Mr. Price has obviously not done his homework, because both cakes were created by the slaves. And Devil’s food cake was named so not because it was black, but because the original cake was very hot, and filled with many spices.

Mr. Price wanted Mr. Mayfield to be more tolerant and not use offensive language. But is the term “black hole” offensive? It was not meant to be.

Black hole- a hypothetical celestial object with a gravitational field so strong that light cannot escape.

No. I do not believe for a second that Ken Mayfield meant it as an offensive racial slur, but how Price re-acted was certainly offensive. Calling it a “while hole” was probably the worst, most childish thing he could have done.

So on the topic of tolerance, I believe that there are three things we must learn.
First, if we are offended by something, we have two choices, Act, or Re-Act.
Next, we need to realize what tolerance truly is and implement it in our lives.
And last, we have to take away the power of the words that hurt us.

When someone offends us, either by something they do or say, we have two choices. WE can re-act, which puts them in control of us, or we can act, and keep control of ourselves while at the same time, leaving the other person powerless.
In my home, my little siblings often quarrel and tease one another. In response
my father always says the same things. “Don’t re-act. When you re-act, you are letting them control you.”

We need to listen to that advice. If someone uses a word we dislike, we can freak our and cringe, and re-act. Or we can act, and walk away, or ignore them. We can choose to be offended or not.

Next, we need to learn what tolerance really is. Webster’s dictionary says this:

Tolerance- 1.) Sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. 2.) The act of allowing something.

John Price, and people like him have a distorted view of tolerance. They want the exact opposite and through their efforts to make everyone else tolerant, they have become intolerant themselves.

Intolerance- Unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression or rights.
Freedom of expression.

We enjoy many freedoms here in the United States. And in my opinion, freedom of speech is the most important. Defiantly the one I treasure most.

But those freedoms come at a cost. When we give people the freedom of speech, the cost is that they may say things we don’t like, or agree with.

So limiting the things that people are allowed to say is not only intolerant, but is taking away their freedoms and their rights.

If we are tolerant, we should be able to hear someone say something vulgar, and say to ourselves, “That is their choice.” And choose not to be offended.

And last, we need to take away the power that these words have.

According to Jay McFarland, a local talk show host in Dallas, “In making words offensive we empower them and those who try to offend us. Ignoring the words and deciding they don’t matter takes away all the power they have.”

A great example of this happened in San Francisco some years ago. The word “gay” was considered extremely offensive, and the word was used as the lowest of insults for many years. Finally, the homosexual community decided it was fed up and a press release was sent out. It said that they were no longer going to let the word offend them. They were going to adopt it and make it their own.

When they did that, they took away all the power of the word.

My father told me an experience he had in high school. His school did not have many white people so most of his friends were black. And they all called each other the “N” word, and wanted him to do the same. He never did though, because he understood that while his friends would not be offended at his use of the word, anyone outside his circle of friends who heard, would be.

But what another great example! That they are able to take a word that has been highly offensive for centuries and turn it into a term of endearment for their friends.
Those are two examples of people who knew that words will never hurt us, unless we allow them to.
We can all follow this example.
So to be truly tolerant, what is it that we need?
We have to act, not re-act, and not lot others control us.
We need to understand what tolerance truly is, so we can have it.
And we must stop being offended, and take away the power that words have.
“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never, ever hurt me.”

(an old speech from debate that I dug up. I like it :) )

1 comment:

  1. You are right on, Rachel!
    You have a wise father!
    Keep on writing and make sure you
    don't offend anyone...on purpose anyway. :)