Friday, 14 July 2017

Words Matter!

Words matter. Words are little units of meaning which when put together build sentences that enable people to communicate with each other. Words do matter and it is important to use words wisely as they can be received by others in ways that can be harmful. They can be construed as offensive either because there is an obvious intention to offend or the receiver has misread the message.

Words can be used inappropriately with little thought for how they may be received by others. If intentional the goal is to inflict discomfort on another person, to cause harm. Some would consider this OK, that free speech is a democratic right; we have the right to say things that people find offensive. It can also be said that people have the right to feel offended, that it’s a choice, a decision that one makes.

The degree of offense taken will vary from person to person. Some will feel more hurt than others i.e. the offender is not causing the strength of offense to the other person entirely; the offended has something to do with it.

Students daily relate how others use ‘mean’ words against them. Some are aggrieved more than others; they experience offence more keenly. Some students may apportion more ‘offense weight’ to a particular word or words than other students do. This can depend on who is doing the offending. Some people are said to be more ‘thin skinned’ than others. The challenge is to help those who are thinner skinned to become more psychologically robust than they are. It appears there are those who are easier to victimise and who may be more prone to bullying than others.

So the offended can take some responsibility for the degree of grievance experienced. This can be worked on at a school level and through personal counselling support; helping the student to learn to be more psychologically tough.

We take free speech for granted and it is a democratic right we defend. Consider the following:

1. Fred likes brussell sprouts. He thinks they are good.

Jane doesn’t like brussell sprouts. She thinks they are bad. She disagrees with Fred’s ‘estimation’ of them.

2. Jane says she doesn’t like brussell sprouts and those who do are feral. Fred is feral because he likes brussel sprouts.

Example 1 illustrates a difference of opinion. Nothing personal (though it could be seen that way!)

Example 2 is more personal. Fred is feral because he likes brussell sprouts.

An opinion doesn’t constitute fact, which can be dismissed as such, a mere appraisal not to be taken seriously. The offender has a right to say what she wants to say to another person who in turn has the freedom (right) to feel offended to a greater or lesser extent, and to do something about it.

People resettle in countries far from their own by design or out of necessity. They may possess a particular worldview very different to those in their host country. Cultural differences can seem strange and unusual. Others may appear more familiar and less confronting. These differences can be viewed as benefits, positive attributes, which value add to society and culture. The opposite view may also be taken.

Opinions and ideas shared in public forums attract attention some of which can be negative. A Moslem spokesperson, Yassmin Abdel-Magied said recently that Islam is the most feminist of all religions. She also said that ANZAC Day should be a time to consider the plight of all people who are victims of war. She made mention of refugees who are in holding camps on the islands of Manus and Nauru. These opinions were the subject of much public discussion and though she apologised for what many deemed offensive words she was fired from her role on television. She has since been the subject of much vitriol and condemnation and recently left for the UK declaring that she felt betrayed by her home country.
 
Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is an author and social commentator. Yassmin’s opinions and ideas are a commentary on issues she believes are important. They are words that matter to her. Why is it that her person has been attacked to the point where she feels unsafe and at risk of harm?  Though her opinions may not be acceptable to some who find them offensive it is not acceptable to attack her for having them.

Educators teach students to engage with ideas and opinions, discuss and disagree with each other but never to demean a fellow human being for having contrary views. Yet this is what’s happening in the public arena.

Yassmins assertion that she felt betrayed inspired the following commentary by Sydney radio 2GB commentator Prue McSween:

“She has fled the country and is blaming all of us”, MacSween said. “She says she’s been betrayed by Australia and didn’t feel safe in her own country. Well actually she might have been right there, because if I had seen her I would have been tempted to run her over mate.” Radio 2GB Sydney
Prue McSween
Further to this McSween defended her actions in a tweet:

‘To all you festering, humourless Twitter ferals. Go tell someone who cares. Last time I looked this was a country of free speech. Get a life.’
2:35 PM - 12 Jul 2017

McSween’s comments attracted a fair deal of criticism and radio 2GB apologised to it’s audience for her behaviour.  Others have protested on various social media and mainstream media platforms about McSweens treatment of Abdel-Magied, that it was misplaced and inappropriate.

McSween dismissed the backlash to her attempt at ‘humour’ as excessive and unfair and that those who didn’t get her humour were ‘ferals’ and should ‘get a life.’ Is this kind of behaviour by journalists and social commentators acceptable? Does it demean the profession? Yes and yes! Should she be allowed the right to offend? Yes again. However it is also the right of others to challenge her views and opinions and present cogent and considered counter views. Challenge the ideas with vim and vigour but personal insults and put downs? Even kids in the schoolyard know the difference!


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