We're sure that our readers are familiar with the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me."
While this adage seems to have fallen out of use among the younger generations, we still hear our mothers' voices using this bit of questionable wisdom when advising us how to cope with school-yard taunts, some of which were mean-spirited and some not intentionally so.
Questionable logic indeed, but it did help us deal with the fact that physical harm was the real threat and that thoughtless words were to be dismissed because they reflected more poorly on the source than on the victim. There was always an implication that the speaker was ignorant or insensitive, not to be taken seriously.
This odd bit of motherly philosophy still helps us deal with unkind language that we dismiss like so much water off the proverbial duck's back. Serious and honest critique is always welcome, but we choose to ignore nasty and mean-spirited pot shots that are meant only to harm or destroy and leave no room for understanding and growth.
We often ask ourselves just what makes some people so insensitive to others that they use name calling as a means of social interaction? Do they seriously believe this is a good way to make friends and influence others, or even effect change?
We have to assume that their goals are not positive ones. But do they actually consider the result of their words and actions, or could it be that they think so little of themselves they give no consideration to their own social reflection?
Maybe name calling is their desperate way to deal with fear and misunderstanding?
We know there are various psychological explanations for such behavior. But as much as we respect individual differences, we think it is time to stop tolerating verbal abuse and instead address one another with some personal integrity.
We don't have to be in agreement, but we can treat one another with a display of respect, which in a civilized world means proper etiquette, or good manners.
Okay, our premise is that hate speech is a bad thing, and we want it to go away. Our philosophy is such that we don't believe in silencing folks, even those who probably should be.
What to do? Education and sensitivity training are obvious suggestions, but they don't always work and don't always reach those who need them most.
How about analyzing language itself and the meaning of words that do change over time and generations? We remember back in the '40s and '50s (19 that is!) when a "faggot" was a bundle of sticks and a 'fag" was a cigarette, and neither were derogatory terms for gay men.
Now young folks use "fag" as an irony for something silly or stupid, and mostly aren't aware of the larger implications that can lead to hurt feelings. Is this change a good or a bad thing, since the younger generations seem to be more accepting of lesbians and gays and don't even relate to "fag" as a negative word?
Perhaps we have to consider that change in our culture is reflected in our language - or is it the other way around? - when determining what is meant to be offensive and what is not.
And this brings us right back to the importance of communication in understanding differences and perhaps knowing that we will never reach everyone, and sometimes we just have to let certain acts and forms of speech stand alone and let them run right off our backs.
Perhaps there is a larger issue in that discrimination and its manifestations in nasty speech and actions are actually systemic. Our government speaks tolerance, while building higher walls around us and creating an air of mistrust about certain immigrants, while welcoming others, especially those with oil-based wealth.
We establish policies touting equality, but we create economic, social and educational hurdles that prevent access to equal opportunity. And we have elected officials who care more about image and re-election than functioning as true public servants.
The division between the haves and have-nots is ever-increasing, and those with less opportunity find themselves falling further behind.
Personal failure is just not an option in this country. So who are those who can't make the grade because the odds are against them, going to blame? Themselves?
It's certainly easier to blame someone else, and who better to accuse than whatever group our officials are currently upset with or perhaps have never allowed to fully integrate and participate in our society?
Well, we know you see how big this problem is, and until we actually create a society that lives up to its self-purported image of the great society for everyone, we will have to tolerate the hate speech that comes from anger and frustration.
Helen Harrell and Carole Fischer can be reached at and .