Do you remember some of the names that were used by childhood bullies — perhaps even by adults — to shame or embarrass you? How about runt, cry-baby, lazy, good-for-nothing, clumsy, mama’s boy, goody-two-shoes, to mention a few that we can repeat in print? Having been the recipient of some such epithets, I know that words do hurt as much as sticks and stones, perhaps even more. Name calling is the product of insecure folks who lack the ability to think logically, develop reasonable ideas and communicate them in a respectful manner.
In today’s world, enlightened people don’t resort to name calling when they get into an argument. In school, children are taught to find more appropriate ways of responding to those who challenge them verbally. Marriage and family counselors seek to help their clients to find more respectful ways of communicating. In the workplace, name calling is simply unacceptable. It diminishes morale and leads to ineffective and unproductive behavior. Reasonable adults are expected to have put aside childish ways.
If you accept this point of view, you must shudder as our nation’s chief executive official utilizes this device against virtually everyone with whom he disagrees — Nervous Nancy, Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Crooked Hillary, Crazy Bernie, Sleepy Creepy Joe. Further, the really sad thing is that his ardent supporters applaud him and encourage his outlandish behavior. And it’s catching. It spreads like a virus into the wider public discourse.
What can be done about it? Will it simply have to run its course as viruses usually do? Perhaps, but in the meantime the casualty list may grow long and our nation may be scarred beyond recognition. Is there an antidote to this dehumanizing behavior? If so, it will have to begin with folks whose emotional immune system has been strengthened by the realization that we are all connected. In words attributed to Vietnamese peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh: “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” We must learn again to love our neighbors as ourselves and to speak about each other more graciously.
Two sentences come to mind from my Judeo-Christian tradition: “A soft answer turns away wrath,” and “Be angry, but do not sin.” My hope is that some leaders will step forward who are angry about things that really matter — things that have brought hardship and harm to the poor, the powerless and the marginalized — and speak passionately about them, but who do it with kinder tone of voice.
For the rest of us, I suggest a simple exercise. Let’s monitor our own thoughts and emotions. Before speaking, let’s ask ourselves with the Sufi poet Rumi, “Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?” Then let us choose our words carefully and speak in the manner that we ourselves would like to be addressed. In other words, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” As we do this, we will become a part of the healing process for our nation.
Thomas Reynolds lives in Bridgewater.