LTE: word choice matters



Steve Corbin, professor emeritus of marketing, writes a letter to the editor addressing the issue of adult bullying and how word choice matters.

Letter to the Editor

While growing up, my parents would repeatedly remind me, “you are not only judged by the company you keep, but also by the words you speak.  Choose both carefully.”

Most mature adults understand that words, in and of itself, as well as when used together are very important, can define who we are and how others judge us.  Ever since the summer of 2015, I’ve noticed an adult, 72 years of age so I’ve been told, an Ivy League educated one at that, has uttered words that are very uncommon for the highly responsible job s/he holds.

The following is a sample of words, out of a collection of nearly 300, as evidence to a pattern of word usage; I’ll let you decide if you feel the words are disturbing or not.

S/he has said things about people such as “he’s a dummy–he’s not a war hero–I like people that weren’t captured,” “she’s a dog,” “bad hombres,” “the dumbest man on television,” “blood coming out of her wherever,” “an extraordinarily low IQ person,” “loser,” “I’d like to punch him in the face,” “get that son-of-a-bitch off the field right now,” “crazy,” “why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries coming here?,” “neurotic,” “he’s either very sick or very dumb,” “crazed, crying lowlife,” “dumb as a rock,” “grab them by the pu**y,” “very dumb,” “very insecure,” “wild with hate,” “moron,” “stupid,” “the blacks,” “the gays,” “the Hispanics,” “the Muslims,” “I’d knock the sh*t out of her,” “dummy,” “these aren’t people–these are animals,” “not very bright,” “sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition” and “pick the 20 most vicious Washington reporters and just kill the sons of bitches.”

Medical experts are convinced these words represent those of an adult bully.

And here I thought bullying was “kid’s stuff” used by immature children and teenagers who wanted to show off.  Wrong.  A recent study by the American Osteopathic Association revealed 31 percent of respondents have been bullied as adults and nearly half believed the bullying behavior has increased in the past year or two.  Hmmm.  I wonder why?

Whether improper words are used at work, in schools or on-the-street, bullying, as defined by the American Psychological Association is “aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort.”  The APA noted that people who bully have a real or perceived power imbalance, and, adults who bully have a view of the world that is narrow, dark and have an inward sickness.

Question:  If a person with power had an opportunity to speak to millions of people on a frequent basis and s/he spoke about, for example, xenophobia (deep-rooted fears towards foreigners, including immigration), would xenophobia become more socially acceptable?  The answer is yes. (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2017)

Research reveals dehumanizing others kickstarts a vicious cycle.  It has been found that an adult’s bully rhetoric also encourages people who already have prejudicial views to act on those views.  (Nour Kteily, Northwestern University, 2017)

Both bullies and their victims suffer from suicidal thoughts more than three times as often as other people.  A Brown University study (2017) concluded adults who engage in frequent bullying behaviors have a mental disorder component, anxiety disorder and/or antisocial personality disorder.  Depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder are also common.

If you witness an adult bully, beware and give him/her space as s/he is more dangerous than originally thought.  And, don’t forget your words, just like mine, matter and you are judged by the company you keep . . . and even those you praise and support.