How are Verbal Bullying and Freedom of Speech connected?
In a survey of four thousand mental health professionals and educators, virtually all of them said they support the freedom of speech. Yet about half of them also said they believe children should be punished for saying things that can hurt others’ feelings. Most people don’t realize that the two don’t go together.
The Golden Rule mandates freedom of speech. If we do not like people punishing us whenever they don’t like what we say, we should not get mad at or punish others for saying things we don’t like to hear either. The freedom of speech is really the Constitutional version of the old “sticks and stones” adage and it recognizes the fundamental difference between physical and verbal bullying.
The results of a physical aggression are objective in nature (If you attack me physically and I get hurt, you’re the one who hurt me), while the results of verbal aggression are subjective (if you attack me with words, it’s up to me – not to you – if I feel hurt). This is why the First Amendment protects us from being punished for saying things that other people don’t like to hear.
The reality is that people will occasionally insult us, criticize us, blame us or say curse words that we don’t like to hear, and we have to learn to deal with it. Freedom of speech recognizes that people can have opposing opinions and beliefs and yet not be enemies. A healthy, dynamic society requires people to be free to think and say what they want without fear of punishment.
Words have the potential of hurting people’s feelings. Freedom of speech means that we don’t get punished for hurting people’s feelings. This does not mean that verbal bullying is alright. There are natural consequences to being mean and inconsiderate. People will not like us and we will have poor relationships if we speak inconsiderately.
How can we, as educators, promote the freedom of speech in a healthy manner in our classrooms?
Learn more…Take this course: Bullying: The Golden Rule Solution