Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

This is an old childhood rhyme taught to me by parents, teachers, and even other kids as I grew up.  It’s easy to remember and is a great lesson for children who grow up in a classical liberal western democracy.  I don’t hear this saying much anymore, and I feel it’s message has been lost on today’s younger generations.

What’s worse is that people like Jordan Petersen who speak about the values contained in the short lesson are vilified and castigated in the media and in society at large.  Why is that, I wonder.  Let’s discuss.

Within westernized liberal democracies, free speech is a cherished right.  Here in the U.S., the right to free speech is enshrined as the first of our ‘Bill of Rights’.  Before our national constitution was ratified, many of the framers thought the original constitution was lacking clarity on a few important issues.  The Bill of Rights were added as the first 10 amendments to the constitution in order to be accepted by the people of the 13 colonies.  Our 1st amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Now, the right to free speech does come with some caveats.  The two classic examples that come to mind are:

  • Some speech is restricted:  you are not allowed to use your speech to incite a riot. (see 18 U.S.C. ยง 2101)
  • Some speech is unpopular:  people have a right to voice opinions the majority of us would disagree with.  (see Brandenburg v. Ohio)

There are many reasons why free speech is important, but I believe one of the top reasons is that free speech allows us the ability to debate ideas, concepts, and philosophies peaceably.  Without recognizing free speech as a mean to debate, the alternative is to resort to violence.  Violence is the natural state of man to resolve issues.  We see this in tribal warlords and even in young children who have yet to be taught to ‘use your words’.  This is also the core message contained with the ‘sticks and stones’ rhyme.

In recent years however, there has been a concept that has been growing in society:  That words are equivalent to violence.  Apparently, if I say something you disagree with, it’s tantamount to harming you.  Examples include:

  • Not using someone’s preferred pronouns.
  • Stating that traditional family values have an important role in society.
  • Advocating for school choice for parents and students.
  • Supporting a political candidate.

This new-found concept in our culture is dangerous and needs to be addressed by our leaders whether they be civic, political, or cultural.  One important lesson contained in the ‘stick and stones’ mantra is to strengthen one’s resolve.   Without this lesson, our culture is being weakened.

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