The Half-Truths of Free Speech?

“Because your entire life, you have been taught a half-truth…and the half-truth(s) that you have been taught since you were in kindergarten are this:  words hurt, words wound, words kill.”   ~Brooks Gibbs

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a very thought-provoking video from a friend on social media by motivational speaker, Brooks Gibbs.  After listening to the beginning of the clip wherein my opening quote lies, my first thought was that what Mr. Gibbs had to say was a bit risqué, maybe even controversial, especially since it was directed to a group of ten thousand children.  ‘Ooh, is that REALLY wise to say?’  From personal experience, the immediate dilemma that came to mind is how you would tell a child who is crying their eyes out (while your heart is breaking for them) over having been called a name that “words don’t hurt” because clearly they certainly can.  They are young, they are vulnerable and in their realm of the world, as they learn to interact with others, words DO matter–both what they hear and what they themselves choose to say.  In fact, as grown-ups, I think many of us would agree that words matter whether we reference present life experiences or those in the past.  After all, I didn’t like being called ‘dumb’ as a youngster, nor would I appreciate it even as a well-established, self-assured, forty-something year old woman.  By the same token, I know how good it feels/felt when someone tells me or has told me that I look nice or that I am funny or smart.  As per my given examples, words obviously take on negative or positive connotations and I am sure that we have all experienced both ends of the spectrum from a very early age.  Thus, do we have the power to change our thoughts on the matter at hand?  Mr. Gibbs seems to thinks so and most of us have heard before that words affect us only to the extent that we LET them affect us.  Before we look at his message more closely, let’s go to the extreme of his half-truths first; the scary thought that “words kill”.

Let’s face it, “words kill” elicits a whole other discussion about suicide, the internet, social media, etc.  Just recently, my husband and I watched a 20/20 episode entitled, “Can Words Kill?” wherein a teenaged girl named Michelle Carter was convicted of manslaughter after exchanging texts and ‘encouraging’ her boyfriend Conrad Roy in a phone conversation to commit suicide, which he had threatened on numerous occasions prior to his actual death.  Needless to say, the case of Miss Carter set a precedence  and led some to question if the basis for her conviction was justified.  Regardless of what you believe about the case, it is a purely tragic story in which one life ended and another was forever changed on the basis of words and words alone–a bit sobering to say the least and a sordid tale hopefully never to be duplicated again.  So, is Mr. Gibbs flat-out wrong in his message to students that “words don’t hurt”?  I am not so sure actually, but in saying that it requires one to really focus and listen to the message he sends to kids in his ‘Free Speech‘ spiel.

As the clip from Brooks Gibbs video continues on, he goes on to say that, “Words DON’T have to hurt, (that) words only have the power that YOU give them”, which as I said earlier, most of us have heard at least once before.  We can also probably relate to his statement that “when you believe that you have the human right that everyone must be nice to you, you’re setting yourself up for failure, you’re creating in yourself a victimization mentality.”  I mean, just think about the saying, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”  True, is it not?  What likely takes Gibbs’ speech to another level of contemplation is when he challenges the notion that others have the right to say what’s on their mind, even if it’s mean and hateful, and that their constitutional right to free speech should not be suppressed (though it may be immoral), since we wouldn’t want our own freedom of speech taken away.  “Every single citizen, ” he says, “has the right to stand up on their platform and speak their mind even if it offends another group.”  While the idea of offending others makes many of us cringe, it cannot always be avoided and countries such as ours ARE founded on the very principles of democracy in which everyone HAS a voice.  Of course, the hope is that “the virtue of love (will drown) out the vice of hate.”  So, how does one achieve that, according to Mr. Gibbs?  The answer is two-fold:

1) Make a decision that you are NOT going to give people the power to hurt your feelings.  Expect that people will be mean from time-to-time–after all, they technically have the right to (it’s not nice!), but that ultimately, you get to choose NOT to pay it any mind.  I’d go one step farther here and explain that the reason that you shouldn’t pay it any mind is because it’s often rooted in another person’s own insecurities/low self-esteem.

2) Despite how you are treated (within reason obviously–this post and his video clip are meant how to address and deal with everyday hurtful comments, not instances of physical and/or verbal abuse), use the ‘golden rule’ to treat even your enemies the way that you would want to be treated.  “Kill them with kindness”, I believe is how the saying goes.

After seeing the video on “Free Speech”, it led me to think about what impact it would have on children.  Would they be able to realize the power that THEY truly hold in what they often perceive as powerless situations, i.e. being called a name, etc. or would it be irrelevant to their fragile egos?  And, if we could get them to realize that love wins over hate, would self-esteem be on the rise and bullying and suicide on the decline?  I don’t know, but I would certainly share Brooks Gibbs’ message if I thought it could make a difference.  Would you?

3 thoughts on “The Half-Truths of Free Speech?

  1. The first thing I thought of was what we always said to another child when they said something mean or called us a (mean) name: “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” What in the heck??? Strangely, as I got older, the other thing I always heard was: ‘Consider the source.’ It almost seems like those two saying should have been reversed. I have always been rather thin-skinned but the older I get, that has changed, and I get my hackles up when I hear someone saying hurtful things. Of course, reading the news and hearing the vileness that comes out of our president’s mouth, another saying pops into my head: “Watch out for karma. She’s a bitch.” Good post, Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like the idea of empowerment for children. I wish I, like you, wouldn’t have been so thin-skinned as a child. I’m just not so sure that they can fully understand it at their age. The messages that you quote that many of us have been given take awhile to truly sink in, but maybe if we plant the seed early?

      Karma is interesting, isn’t she?

      Thanks for reading and commenting:-).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It surely takes time for little people to understand that not everything said has meaning. Especially when spoken by someone whose opinion doesn’t count. As adults, we can sluff off nastiness because the words spoken came from someone who is a jerk, or whose opinion doesn’t matter. Even as adults some words hurt, especially when they hit a “tender” area, one we aren’t confident in. One of the most important gifts we can share with children is raising their self-esteem and confidence so they are better able to let mean words slide away.

    Liked by 1 person

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