The Weight of Words

“With freedom comes responsibility”
Eleanor Roosevelt

I wrote about this subject before, when a nurse took her own life after being pranked by two Australian DJs, https://suzannebarbieri.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/road-to-hell/

Today, I am writing about it again after the suicide of primary school teacher Lucy Meadows following her harassment by the press. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/22/lucy-meadows-press-harassment

In these circumstances, we have to say that there is not necessarily any link between what foolish/careless/cruel people may have said, done, or written and another person’s suicide.

We have to say that, whether or not it is true. The reason we have to say it is as follows.

Freedom of expression should be a right, but with all rights and freedoms come responsibilities. Words have weight. While the sticks and stones of thoughtless remarks may not break bones, they do break spirits, hearts, lives.

If you want to attack vulnerable members of society, and as a result of your hounding they kill themselves, you must own your part in that. Similarly, if I were to accuse a journalist of hounding someone to death and that journalist then took his or her own life, I would have to accept culpability.

This is what free will is: you make your own choices and you live with the consequences. Ignorance of this Universal Law is no excuse.

No one knows what is going on in another’s life. People who kill themselves are not weak-willed or fragile. They have just reached their limit. Don’t be the straw that breaks them.

Think before you exercise your freedom of expression. Is it really such a hardship to refrain from verbal assaults? Opinion isn’t fact, the private lives of ordinary people isn’t news.

Only a poor journalist has to resort to sensationalism, only a weak writer has to rely on demonising vulnerable members of society, and only a fool then bleats that they were ‘just saying’ when challenged on their vitriol.

What it boils down to, yet again, is bullying.

A bully is someone so acutely aware of their own failings that they have to point out the perceived failings of others in the vain hope that theirs are not noticed. Yet the very act of bullying marks out its perpetrator as an inadequate loser, and so the vicious cycle continues.

And sadly many of these bullies are allowed to spit their venom across the pages and websites of national newspapers, thus giving their views the appearance of credibility, when they are really only self-hatred directed outwards at those less able to fight back.

The time for change is well overdue, but the changes needed are at an individual level. All the while bigots posing as journalists are given free reign to express opinions, but are not held responsible for the consequences, the objects of their hatred will continue to be crushed beneath the weight of their ill-considered words.

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By SJB