Posted by Word Camel on October 30, 2003
In Reply to: Re: 'sticks and stones' posted by pdianek on October 30, 2003
: Absolutely, words hurt just as much as physical pain -- and recent brain research bears this out. Emotional pain is processed in the same part of the brain as physical pain -- in other words, it hurts! Our brains perceive no difference. And just as physical wounds leave marks (scars, deformities), so, too, do emotional wounds.
: A useful thing to do is turn down the volume on hurtful things that people have said to us over the years, and turn UP the volume of the true and real messages about ourselves.
I balked initially because it seemed to me that whether "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me" is or isn't true misses the point of the forum entirely. I'm surprised that no one who commented on the substance of the post has really thought through its broader implications.
It seems to me that if what's been said was really true, we should abandon any notion free speech right now.
The contention of the social conservatives who have traditionally sought to censor free speech is that words and images are no different than physical force. Posts like the one above are an expression of the same sentiment in an age of therapeutic culture. By that I mean that social experience tends to be seen through the prism of the individual's self esteem. Solutions to social problems are also often reduced to the level of individual behavior. Further more, it's not social conservatives making the case any more, it's liberals, feminists and other progressive people.
I've no doubt that words can hurt - especially children who lack the maturity to keep things in perspective* - but I believe there is still a qualitative difference speech and action. What's more I think it remains true even considering new investigations into the functioning of the brain.
I have seen examples recently where people have pointed this new brain research to justify particular styles of parenting and to explain criminal behavior. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone would draw out the logic and apply it to words and then use it as a justification to curtail speech. Critics point out that the changes in the brain some people call 'damage' may just be change that occurs in the course of life. We just don't know enough to draw sweeping conclusions.
Anyway, please forgive my jaunt on the soapbox. I'm not sure how relevant any of this is to the topic. I wouldn't say this stuff if I didn't respect our little group of posters so much.
* It is noticeable the words that hurt children the most are often things that would be innocuous to an adult