There are currently several movements going on that want to ban “words”. And while at their core I understand their message I just cannot support most bans. To me banning both represents a “big brother” attitude where we take away a person’s freedom as well as a missed opportunity for dialogue.
If we are talking about banning the use of landmines or taking guns into schools, that’s completely understandable. Those actions are direct causes of mortal harm to others. But these campaigns to ban the use of certain words are not about mortality, they are about hurt feelings. Words can definitely cause harm, but we have to have conversations about what’s appropriate rather than banning them. And beyond that we have to give one another the freedom to speak as we wish and hurt one another’s feelings. You can take away as many words as you like, and we will still find ways to hurt each other.
“I have been looking for an apartment” is an unbelievably hurtful sentence… if it’s said by a husband to his wife during a fight because he can’t live with her and their children any more. It’s a sentence that doesn’t contain any “bad words” but it is going to cause so much hurt, and even end a marriage. Every word is a potential weapon. Our children need to learn that they are just words and that another person cannot label you with words unless you let them.
I just wrote a post last week about often being referred to as a hippie (and those saying this were using it in jest but mockingly so.) I found it irritating and offensive for a while. Why did it bother me? Because I chose to let them label me with their definition of the word- a negative definition. But then I decided to redefine that word for myself. And I am a hippie, but in a way that I am proud of.
Some of the bans out there include banning the use of the word “retard or retarded“, banning bossy, getting rid of various phrases (don’t be a pu$$y, man up, etc.), and the don’t say gay bill. All of them are well-intentioned, but they all also forefront the negative and back burner the true message. For example in the You Don’t Say campaign one of the messages is “I don’t say ‘man up‘ because I don’t believe in gender norms” but the emphasis is on what not to do, and not on why. Or in the Ban Bossy campaign the secondary tag line is “Encourage girls to lead”. An amazing message but it’s not the feature. The feature in all of these is I order you to NOT do THIS.
Then we get into the ridiculous word bans. Such as the demand for the notoriously violent children’s story Hop On Pop to be pulled from public library shelves immediately! I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the young man whose father nearly died after the child hit him in the abdomen with a baseball bat due to the influence of this story…. oh wait, that NEVER happened because this is the stupidest ban on words ever proposed. Hop on Pop is not inciting children to commit mass murder or other violent behaviour. This is such a modern north american middle class over-thinking parent problem (read white-people problem)!!\
We are all spending too much time sheltering our children instead of educating them. And that includes both words and actions. We keep children away from harmful words and books. Many parents in my area won’t show their kids old Looney Toons cartoons because the violence exchanged between the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote is going to warp their child’s brain. I don’t know anyone who has a babysitter under the age of 30. Gone are the days when a 13-year-old could make a few dollars take care of a child alone. Now everyone wants a professional nanny to babysit. And then there is the playground. Giant plastic fortresses of safety where kids run around with their mother or father shuffling directly behind them. Adult and parent often zipping down the slide together. No wonder there is a movement for adventure play spaces to return, parents are worn out from all the coddling and children need autonomous play, it is an important part of their development.
Beyond children, we all need freedom. Bigotry just doesn’t stop. When one group is accepted another is outcast, we are constantly changing our groupings of who is in what category. I’m not saying we shouldn’t always strive to be inclusive or “better” (whatever that means) but bans are not the answer, for one they are the antithesis of inclusion. Negative messaging does not work, in my opinion, and real understanding does not come from rules it comes from conversations.
One of the lessons that came out of a study on autonomous play was that when you actually take all the rules away from the playground chaos does not ensue. There were actually fewer incidents of bullying, injuries, and vandalism. Children, like adults create communities and their own “code of conduct”. If we provide information, children can use that to form their own ethics, choose their friends, as well as what conduct they approve of and do not. Banning implies silence and, if you’ve read any of my other posts, I don’t believe in silencing anyone. Let’s talk about it.
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