This week at UofL is “No Name-Calling Week.” It may sound trite, the phrase “name-calling” bringing to mind a childish squabble. But as recent events have reminded us, name-calling can, and does have a negative and perhaps deadly impact on the targets.
As children, we’re admonished to ignore those who called us names, that it reflects more on the name-caller than it does the one the jeers are directed toward, and anyone who says otherwise is labeled too sensitive, among other things. It is interesting that we admonish the one targeted by the name-caller just as much as the name-callers themselves. Why is this? The children we chastise for being hurt feel, and rightly so, as if they’re just as much as fault as the one who set out to hurt them. But they’re not. These bullied children, youth, and yes, adults, are not responsible for the actions of others—they are who they are, and the bully has chosen to belittle them because of a difference.
Here is where two core values of American culture clash. On the one hand we have the rugged individualism, reminiscent of the iconic cowboy, freedom to chase after the American dream, no matter what Authority or convention says. On the other, we have personal responsibility—that we are all responsible for our actions, no matter how we were raised, who or what compelled us, or what our intentions were.
Phrases like “that’s so gay” and “lame” are popularly used to describe something negative. While not a direct attack on an individual, it attacks a trait core to an individual’s, and yes, a group’s, identity, implying that who they are is something negative, undesirable, stupid. Bullying attacks the individuality of a person, something that identifies an individual as outside of what is considered normal. Here, the American value of individualism is discarded. In chastising the bullied for being hurt, we discard the American value of personal responsibility—we blame the bullied for standing out, rather than the bully for attacking someone. Perhaps we divide blame, chastising the bully for bullying and the bullied for being affected.
In the wake of the suicides of LGBT youth across the nation, and the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, language and civility has been forefront of a national discussion. UofL’s events seek to spark a more productive dialogue—not whodunit or if it is happening, but sharing the stories of those affected, the large breadth of what it encompasses, and urging all to pledge to stop the name-calling.
Language is a powerful thing—communication is a gift to mankind, and we should use it honorably, and thoughtfully. Learning to do so is a lifetime endeavor, and certainly not easy—approach it with an open mind, and a respectful demeanor—because all knowledge is worth having.