independent

Thursday 5 December 2019

Unlike the saying, words can indeed hurt

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

The saying that goes: 'Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me' was often quoted to children by their parents if other children called them names.

It seems it first appeared at the end of the 19th century advising children not to take the bait when they were being taunted. That may be good advice but certainly names can hurt and hurt deeply.Words are important and words matter.

On Sunday September, 29 I caught a glimpse of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson being interviewed on BBC's 'The Andrew Marr Show'. He proclaimed to Marr that he, Boris, was a model of restraint. I personally saw and heard him say that. This is the same man, who some few days earlier told a fellow parliamentarian that she was talking 'humbug' when she was speaking of the danger of using inflammatory language. She was instancing the death of her friend and Labour Party colleague Jo Cox. And the same Mr Johnson, before he unlawfully attempted to prorogue the British Parliament, called the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a 'great big girl's blouse'.

Johnson is a 'clever' speaker. He constantly calls the Benn Act the Surrender Act. Keep saying something often enough and it sticks. And he knows that. And he gets away with it. He well knows his crass military metaphors can easily inflame passions in the current climate.

The same day that Johnson said that he was a model of restraint, across the Atlantic at the White House, President Donald Trump said referring to the Democrats' intentions of impeaching him: 'This is the single greatest scam in the history of American politics... Our country is at stake like never before.' He then went on to say that his opponents were out to get him because he was fighting for the individual US citizen and was going to continue 'draining the swamp'.

The previous day Brexit MEP David Bull warned that the EU was turning into an 'empire'. The EU is anything but an empire. It has been forged so as never again to allow another Holocaust, another Stalingrad to happen.

The German journalist, philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt in the 1970s wrote: 'No one has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues' and that 'lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician's or the demagogue's but also of the statesman's trade'. Arendt, who was born into a Jewish family in Hanover in1906, covered the trial of former Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961 for 'The New Yorker' newspaper. Observing the ordinariness of Eichmann in the dock she saw him as a small bureaucrat and coined the now-famous phrase 'The Banality of Evil'.

People, politicians, statesmen/women have always told lies but there seems to be something more ferocious about the deceit that is happening today. Or is it that we are simply hearing more about it and seeing and hearing it with our own eyes and ears?

Certainly, social media seems to bring the worst out in people. Dare one ask is there an underlying evil/darkness in the human psyche that can easily erupt? Is it that I am biased and pointing the finger at those whom I oppose? But I have not heard an intemperate word from Jeremy Corbyn in the current political furore.

Words are important and we need to use them to express our kindness and gentleness. History tells us what happens when we use words to threaten and frighten.

Wexford People

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