Sticks & Stones

13 Nov 2023

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is a mantra from my youth. It was a sure-fire way of defending against the taunts of a bully, often accompanied by a poked-out tongue and waggly fingers attached to either side of your head by your thumbs. Irritatingly, this childish little ditty keeps coming back to taunt me afresh, whenever I read the headlines in quality broadsheets of today. Modern ‘bullying’ appears to have expanded to encompass adults more than children. I appreciate that language must continually evolve and simplify to remain pertinent; in this respect at least, English has surpassed French, Spanish, Italian and German by, for example, shedding gender identification of nouns; but have we reached a linguistic cul de sac when it comes to words like bullying? Physical abuse is abhorrent in any language, but verbal abuse is of a different order. It requires evidence of genuine reputational damage, if it is to be actionable. Libel and slander are two sides of the same coin but will involve legions of expensive lawyers to successfully nail your accusers. And to what end? Monetary gain for hurt pride? Compensation for your own incompetence? Social Media has amplified the noise around bullying to a point where any minority group, however obscure, can, ipso facto, claim victim status. Highly paid Civil Servants sue their employer for wrongful dismissal citing bullying on the part of their line manager; celebrities can even prosecute other celebrities by referencing X formerly known as twitter, just for the publicity value. Is it too late to turn back the clock and recover a sense of pride in self-determination? Or to abandon the blame culture, once and for all? I sincerely hope so for the remedy lies in stating the blindingly obvious. Why get involved in the first place?

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