Sticks And Stones….

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

What a load of crap! That old line that our parents and teachers used to roll out and say to us whenever we complained about being teased or bullied, is just plain wrong! Words do hurt-words have the ability to hurt us very much. They can even kill. I have talked with many victims of abuse over the years and have been told many times “I could handle the hitting-it was the words that did the real damage.”

Words hold an enormous power. They are the things that allow us to make meaning from the world around us. They can lift us up or drag us down. They can make us scared or make us laugh out loud. A single word can make us happy or sad. Words hold power.

Words affect how we feel about ourselves and about others-both our own words (our “self talk”) and those that are directed at us by others. We are also affected by words that surround us-e.g. other people’s conversations, in books and in the media.

Words that are positive empower and unify us.

Words that are negative disempower and separate us. They fracture and marginalise us.

Words matter…

Why is it then, that when I woke up and turned the TV on this morning and watched our politicians in action, I felt physically ill? The very people who we have elected and paid to represent us and to supposedly work for the good of our country, using and abusing words like weapons, using them specifically to cause hurt and pain.

I do not have a political preference. I spend my votes on people-the people who I believe best represent me in what is important to me at the time. (And this continues to change as I grow and change.)

But I, like many people I know, have grown increasingly fed up with how our politicians act and how they speak, both to us and to each other.

In the last week or so we have reached new lows. Following on from Alan Jones (The company we keep) today’s episode saw Tony Abbott continue on where Jones left off.

We all have words that have negative associations for us-they are “trigger” words. I’m sure you know what that‘s like-you’re having a pleasant conversation and all of a sudden there is a word that triggers a response for you-that takes you straight into a memory and a feeling that makes you feel bad.

Tony Abbott used this in a disgraceful way on the floor of Parliament yesterday. Alan Jones stated that the Prime Minister’s father had “died of shame.” Tony Abbott hurled these words at the Prime Minister about her “government of shame.” He used the words “…  a government that should have already died of shame.”

He used exactly the same words as his friend Alan Jones, again directed at Julia Gillard.

The “Sunrise” reporter Mark Riley described them as “a poor choice of words.” They were not a “poor choice of words.” They were a disgraceful, shameful and unforgivably cruel choice of words. What’s conveniently overlooked is that they were a choice.

Incredibly, ”Sunrise” then gave Alan Jones airtime! (Why???)He described Abbott’s verbal assault simply as “an unfortunate choice of words” then launched into an attack on the government.

Where is the accountability? Where is the personal responsibility? Where is the cut off point that says “Enough!!”

Politicians’ lives and careers revolve around the use of words- words are their bread and butter- their livelihood- and they need to be held responsible for them. If Tony Abbott worked in a private corporation he would be sacked. If you or I spoke to people like that we would be sacked. He said he was “oblivious” to his choice of words. Crap.

Words can be used for good, or for evil.

We get to choose….

The company we keep….

“You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.”

Whether we like it or not, the people we choose to surround ourselves with say a lot about us.

I watched with interest this week the reaction to the hateful comments from radio announcer Alan Jones directed at our Prime Minister. Despite one’s personal views on the Prime Minister in the political context, the comments by Jones were a truly vile and hateful personal attack that was directed intentionally into an open wound of grief and loss for a daughter who had just lost her Dad.

What has been of particular interest is the reaction from those around Alan Jones, particularly from his fellow media colleagues and from our politicians. Their unwillingness to acknowledge his inappropriateness and nastiness has been stunning.

What is becoming increasingly acknowledged with those who deal in the area of bullying is that the bully is only a part of the problem. The thing that has major victim impact is the behaviour of the bystanders – those who simply stand by and do nothing and in doing so, not only condone and reinforce the behaviour of the bully but also let the victim know that they are weak, that they are alone and that they are worthless…..That is the soul-destroyer.

Despite audible gasps from the audience when Jones initially delivered his speech, not one of the 100+ people in the room who heard those comments protested or simply got up and left. In remaining there they let him know that what he said was okay. Despite later changing it, the Sydney University Young Liberals gave the speech a raving review describing it as:

“Brilliant speech by Alan Jones last night. It’s no wonder he’s the nation’s most influential broadcaster.”

When public disgust became obvious, there was a pitiful scurry to make excuses and justify. In his initial lame “apology” Jones made the excuse that he had simply repeated something he’d heard. ie: it wasn’t really him saying it. (The old school yard “But he said at first!” Or “He made me do it!”) Jones followed the “apology” up by again attacking the Prime Minister. The only real outrage and huffing and puffing was about him getting caught.

Social media began to have an impact on advertisers on Jones’s show but from media, politics and social commentators the reaction was decidedly lacklustre. “That’s just Alan. It will all blow over. Give it a week or two and He’ll be more popular than ever…”

One incident that impacted on me was that involving Karl Stefanovic. He interviewed Laurie Oakes, a journalist of high regard and integrity who was willing to speak out and say “That was not okay.” Oakes also noted the lack of censure from Leader of the Opposition and close friend of Jones, Tony Abbott who  referred to Jones’s behaviour as merely being…” out of line.”

 Stefanovic leapt in and stated “You don’t have much time for Alan Jones do you, Laurie?”

Oakes replied “After yesterday, Karl, do you?”

Looking increasingly uncomfortable Stefanovic then admitted “Yes, I am a friend of Alan Jones.”

He then asked Oakes to clarify how he felt. Oakes told him then asked Stefanovic to clarify how he felt.

Flustered and trapped Stefanovic merely repeated Abbott’s ineffectual line.”Well I thought it was completely out of line…”

Subsequent interviews with other media I saw involving Alan Jones involved “soft” questioning, with journalists assuring us that Alan Jones was a great bloke and that he would be more popular than ever.

Alan Jones is a powerful and intelligent man. He has a lot of things to say that I agree with. He could quite possibly be an interesting bloke to have a yarn with at a barbecue. But his personal hatred has no place in a public forum and his “mistakes” happen again.. and again… and again… and again…

This issue is not about political views – it is about our own humanity – our ability to have empathy and compassion for others and to honour the things that unite us as human beings with a capacity to both think and to feel. To have morals and values that let us know what is right and what is wrong and the courage and self-belief to stand up for those morals and values. This is becoming less common as those with power and influence take less and less responsibility and accountability for their words and their actions. They become bullies because we allow them to be. Those who we trust to give us moral leadership and direction are distinctly “missing in action”……

In her thought-provoking book “Wilful Blindness” Margaret Heffernan discussed how Hitler’s architect and “second most powerful man in the Reich” Albert Speer was able to use “studied obliviousness” to rationalise and justify the events that unfolded in Germany. Through his awe and genuine like of Hitler as a person he was able to cultivate a state of consciousness that allowed him to “see but not see “- how he was able to overlook Hitler’s atrocities, to make excuses and to see only the “good” he chose to see.

A bit like Karl and Tony and their buddies really…

Each of us as human beings has personal responsibility for human decency.

“You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.”

Who have you been hanging out with lately?! :)