Friday, February 6, 2009

Fightin’ words

Maybe it’s a sign of the times.

There seems to be a lot of fightin’ words being flung around out there.

Yesterday, a man called The Nugget and was verbally — unpleasant, I guess I’ll say — to the woman who runs the front desk. Of course he wouldn’t identify himself. He’s upset about local option and he doesn’t like me. Fine on both counts. But to lay it on somebody who has nothing to do with either issue? Not cool.

A couple of times recently I’ve heard people I like and respect let their passion curdle into nasty and unfair attacks on people they disagree with.

Then we’ve been treated to the audio of actor Christian Bale going off on a Director of Photography on the set of the new Terminator movie. His foul-mouthed tirade wasn’t about correcting a problem, it was about humiliating a colleague. I doubt my wife is the only one to vow: “I’ll never see one of that guy’s movies again. That’s totally uncalled for.”

Most seriously, last Friday a 16-year-old youth’s “mouthing off” led to a punch to the head and a fall to the concrete that put the 16-year-old in the hospital and on restricted activity for weeks and left his 14-year-old assailant in deep trouble.

Words are powerful and words that are meant to wound, belittle, humiliate can lead to big trouble. No, you can’t bludgeon somebody in the head because his words cut you — especially in school. But who would have blamed the guy at the receiving end of Christian Bale’s tirade if he’d laid the actor out on the floor?

We live in a culture that shields people from accountability for their words. Everybody on the Internet is 10 feet tall and bulletproof. They can lurk in cyberspace and spew invective with no consequences.

(I realize that we’re indulging the same sort of thing on this blog — it’s the nature of the Internet. That’s why the comments are moderated).

There’s a lot of really angry people out there, feeling powerless as the world seems to spin out of control. Maybe it feels good to lash out, maybe it makes some people feel big for a moment to make someone else feel small.

But I suspect that ain’t really so, at least not for long. I’ve never felt good afterward when I’ve let my temper get the better of me and used my skill with words as a weapon. It’s not right and it’s not healthy for anybody.

Some people seem to just live that way and I hate to imagine what it must be like. It can’t feel good stewing in your own bile.

Maybe Christian Bale could tell us, but I’m not interested in anything that guy has to say.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Jim,

    You are correct that our modern society insulates and protects people from the repercussions of their words. Just a thought, but perhaps a return to the custom of dueling should be considered. Formalized dueling forces one to face the possibility of dire consequences, or loss of face, depending on their choice of acceptance. For minor offenses, we could consider non-lethal options. I know a few people that I would like to challenge to potatoes at 30 feet.

    John C.

  2. Jim,

    Having traveled a bit outside the country I've visited cultures that hold individuals accountable for their words.

    For example, in one culture if you call a fellow's sister a whore and he hears about it, you'll both hear and feel the repercussion.

    In another culture if you utter what are deemed profanities against God you can expect to lose your tongue ... literally.

    In both these examples the majority of your peers (fellow citizens) would feel you'd earned what you got and then some ("What were you thinking when you said THAT???".

    The streetwise among us know that "Disrespect is diss'in and diss'in is Death". You don't shoot your mouth off in the street unless you're willing to have your mouth closed for you. Equally, it is far easier (as well as safer) to "diss" a newspaper editor, or a counter person, or a local politician than the local Hells Angel...for much the same reason.

    In the Old West merely accusing a man of lying oft got the tongue wagger a one way ticket to Boot Hill. In some areas of our country this same philosophy holds true today, in one form or another.

    What we as a multi-cultural society have forgotten is that with speech comes responsibility, and choosing one's words carefully is both respectful of the Other and a credible means of self-survival.

    As a retired law enforcement officer I've lost count of all those in my experience who, if they'd held their tongue before 911was called, would have avoided the punch in the nose, the trip to the ER, and in some cases the free ride to the county jail depending on who threw the first blow.

    Best we remind ourselves to pick our words carefully - setting an example for others to do the same -and saving everyone unnecessary hurt, injury and perhaps even loss of life.

  3. tso sad for that poor gal working for not much more than mimimum is a sign of the times when there is only one newspaper in town that represents and plays on vested interests ..anger and frustrations arise when the working class is supressed snd has no dont be too suprised when we have our own renditiom of the Source here ....I will consider hiring you jim

  4. Umm, anon @8:24, I'd really love to know when Sisters ever had more than one paper...

  5. umm anon ..if you read it again I'm saying there is only one paper in town.