Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sticks And Stones

I once wrote that half the trouble in the world is caused by people who choose to give offense, and the other half is caused by those who choose to be offended. It’s a way of looking at things which can allow an individual to ignore the ignorant and unjustified insults of others by recognizing that it is the perpetrator and not the target who is diminished by such attacks. If, on the other hand we choose to take the bait and rise up in righteous indignation, we may run the risk of becoming the very thing we oppose. We risk becoming just as intolerant as those who revile us.

However, that doesn’t mean that we should always ignore the taunts and insults which might come our way. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to say “no” to ignorance and prejudice. When Andrew Johns referred to Greg Inglis as a “black so and so”, it could have been taken in the context in which it was no doubt intended. It could have been accepted as nothing more than boisterous talk among mates in private, as they built up a common purpose to defeat their opponents on the sports field. These were not public remarks, and were not intended to become public remarks.

The words might not have even been intended to be racist, but for at least one individual present, that’s how they were interpreted. Timana Tahu decided to stand up for what he believes in and he left the New South Wales State of Origin training camp, sparking a controversy which has opened old wounds and led to fresh allegations of ingrained racism in rugby league. Some have accused him of being precious and of causing trouble, while others have admired his decision and supported his actions. The truth is that it was a decision which must have taken courage, and which Timana Tahu had every right to make.

It is said that sticks and stones can break our bones but words can never harm us, and that might sometimes be a useful comfort. Equally they say that actions speak louder than words, but the true power of words should never be ignored. It is words which make us who and what we are. It is words which define the way that we think, which in turn determines how we act. The power to speak is what separates us from the animal kingdom, and it is the power of words which creates the lives we lead. Words actually do have the power to change the world. That’s why it is important that we choose our words carefully.

And that’s why Timana Tahu’s decision to make a point and walk away will achieve more than if he had simply chosen not to be offended.

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