That’s so old school nowadays. That antiquated premise has been cast aside in favor of sensitivity training and “hate speech” regulatory restrictions on what others may or may not say.
We write here not to praise or defend hateful speech, but rather to reject the notion that we can or should attempt to legislate it out of human nature – and to assert that much of the “injury” inflicted by hateful speech occurs only by permission of the offended party.
In years past, responsible parents did not reinforce their children’s hurt feelings. Instead, they instructed their children that someone saying “you’re ugly” or “you’re fat” or “you’re stupid” does not make one any of those things. They helped soothe hurt feelings by pointing out that such insults are much more of a condemnation of the speaker than the subject.
Really good parents did not wait for their children to be targeted, but pointed out examples from daily life or from movies, television or literature that showed how targets of verbal abuse could be resilient, or else suffer the consequences not only of the abuse but of their own weakness in coping with it.
And they used their children’s own tendencies to be mean-spirited, owing to an innate selfishness that is in all of us, as opportunities to teach that such behavior is not a good thing and will be punished, not rewarded.
That approach promotes a healthy self-image and good mental health. It helps the child or adolescent understand that while we have very little if any control over what others say about us, we have 100 percent control over how we let what others say affect us.
It does much more good than any volume of legislation. Citizens who were raised to understand the dynamic don’t need statutory restraints, and citizens who were not won’t abide by the statutes.
We’re certain many parents still offer that sound advice. But they do it in an atmosphere dominated by the self-contradictory notion of “political correctness” and the insidious rejection by our society of individual responsibility.
They do so in a time when nurturing hurt feelings and looking for opportunities to feel insulted have been elevated to an art form.
As for the “sticks and stones” verse, that is of course a simplistic expression. Certainly words can hurt, and we have rightfully placed restrictions on speech (the First Amendment notwithstanding) which causes injury by libel or slander, or which may incite others to do violence.
But the common law principle that words, by themselves, are not sufficient to establish a threat of harm is being overrun by overzealous efforts to muzzle others from ever saying offensive things.
People are going to say offensive things. Better to instruct children, and require adults, to just deal with it.