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They say name-calling doesn’t hurt but it does

In hiding: many gay people keep their sexual identity secret

When I was growing up, the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was often recounted as a taunt in response to words. I have come to realise that this term is untrue. Words can and do hurt. Words can be used to discriminate; to deny other persons’ positive human qualities.

I want to discuss how we use our words and suggest how adopting the guiding principle of dignity and respect for ourselves and others may help us to move to a different place.

We all have the right to have our opinions and beliefs, and most are OK to publish. But how we do this will help us to create more healthy or unhealthy relationships. In a small community, this is important.

It is especially true for minority groups who experience elevated levels of shame, fear and anxiety as a result of island-wide attention to their circumstances.

The nature and content of some comments in this publication and on Facebook and other social-media sites harm our community. When our two youngest children were teens, we were told we should address the behaviour, not the person — a novel idea to me, and it took quite a while to understand the difference.

The belief system behind this suggestion was that every person is different, with a special purpose to fulfil. As parents, it was our job to see our own potential and inspire and challenge our children to seek out and fulfil their potential. This meant letting go of limited beliefs and reactions, which came from history and conditioning. It also meant reacting and responding to the behaviour, while retaining a belief in the infinite perfection and potential of the person whose behaviour we might not appreciate. It meant creating consequences that were related to the behaviour, but which did not diminish the person.

Twelve-step programmes teach: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t be mean when you say it.”

Calling each other names in private or in public may be legal, but is it helpful? Most name-calling happens when one of our buttons has been pressed and we respond in the way we have learnt to respond without fully thinking out the consequences.

One of the consequences is polarisation in relationships, as the person receiving the comment may respond in kind. Problems are rarely resolved by name-calling, so refraining may be the best course. I often consider how I would feel if I was called “an abomination”, “stupid”, “an idiot” or other words that are not designed to compliment the recipient. It’s a form of verbal violence, and it’s not who we are or who anyone is.

After the referendum on marriage equality in Ireland, one young person recounted how frustrated and irritated he was, as he had not yet “come out” to his family. During the referendum campaign, his grandfather, father and one sister frequently said how gay and lesbian persons made them “sick to their stomach”.

These comments may seem harmless. They may seem appropriate. But they are never appropriate to a person who belongs to the group being categorised in this way, or to those who see them as fully human as they are.

I believe many gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex people keep their sexual identity secret out of a desire to belong. Their sexual identity is not given equal legal status or acceptance in our community. They experience elevated levels of shame, fear and anxiety.

These feelings, combined with social-media comments, or comments in various platforms by influential persons in our community, trigger dread and disquiet about a part of themselves they are powerless to change. They generate feelings of frustration, hopelessness and apprehension, when they deeply need love, support and encouragement from families, community leaders, friends and co-workers to affirm their equal value and worth as members of the human family.

The process I’m trying to take myself through is:

1, How would I feel if this comment was made to me?

2, How do I want to be treated?

3, To take time before responding

4, Can I respond with dignity and respect for myself and all people?

If I can’t, then I have been presented with a learning opportunity that requires me to take time for self-reflection.

Every person wishes to be valued and accepted. If we alter the way we communicate and embrace the principles of dignity, respect, understanding and forgiveness — because we all make mistakes — each one of us will find a greater sense of belonging.

Monica Jones is a former attorney, and modern-day artist and writer, who has sold her art through private sales from her home studio in Pembroke for the past several years. She started her personal writing in 2010 and has published a newsletter, blog and regular Facebook dialogue, with the goal of creating a more peaceful and humane world