Be care­ful, words re­ally can hurt

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

THERE’s an old English rhyme:

The adage is be­lieved to have been used to help chil­dren fac­ing a bully to re­main calm and not re­tal­i­ate.

But we all know words are pow­er­ful, and ver­bal abuse does cause un­told harm to those it is di­rected at. We have seen how the speed and reach of so­cial me­dia am­pli­fies the im­pli­ca­tions of trad­ing in­sults, with the names of racist trolls, in par­tic­u­lar, in­grained in our con­scious­ness.

Yet that doesn’t stop us from los­ing our cool and lash­ing out when we get an­noyed.

This was the ex­pe­ri­ence of a Pre­to­ria woman who was so dis­turbed by a neigh­bour’s planned home ex­ten­sion that she con­fronted him in front of some as­so­ci­ates, call­ing him a which trans­lates to “rogue”. He in turn be­came so “en­raged” and “em­bar­rassed” by her at­tack, he con­sid­ered hit­ting her. But in­stead, and de­spite her apol­ogy later, he sought fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion to the tune of R500 000.

But the judge hear­ing the case dis­missed the amount, say­ing the mat­ter should never have got to court, award­ing him R2 000 for his hurt feel­ings (which is what his neigh­bour had of­fered him by means of an apol­ogy) and slap­ping him with costs.

We have wit­nessed the out­ing of an­gry peo­ple on so­cial me­dia, and might even re­joice when we feel they got their just deserts.

Yet, as South Africans, we seem to have an an­gry but­ton which when pushed gets us so worked up that we re­vert to name-call­ing.

What we should re­mem­ber, from the play­ground to the work­place, from be­hind the steer­ing wheel to look­ing over the gar­den wall, to the vir­tual world of so­cial me­dia, is that dis­parag­ing, bul­ly­ing, racist, misog­y­nist and ho­mo­pho­bic words do cause hurt and hu­mil­i­a­tion to oth­ers.

Per­haps this wasted court case can be a les­son to us to work to mod­er­ate our be­hav­iour be­cause out­bursts hurt oth­ers, and they hurt us.

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