Words – and How “Wrong” Can Be a Catalyst

Today, the social media world is up in arms against Stephen Fry, with all the “right-thinking, liberal people” decrying his comment that “survivors of sexual abuse need to stop feeling self-pity, and grow up.”

And….I’m on the outside, afraid of speaking up, It’s a place I often find myself. It’s why I’ve disabled  comments on this post – because I can’t deal, yet, with the kind of anger and hatred that happens every time someone uses the “wrong” words, the “wrong” approach, every time they “do thinking wrong.”

I’m wondering, has anyone actually read “Nineteen Eighty-Four”? Or do they think George Orwell was making diary entries?

Fascism begins with “You can’t say that. This is how we speak. This is the language we use. This is how we think.” It ends – always – with death, despair, destruction.

But, the thing is, we need to allow people to “do thinking wrong”, to use the “wrong” words, publically, to have the “wrong” opinions, the “wrong” attitude – because, when we react to someone “getting it wrong”, their “wrongness” has been the catalyst for a discussion, and discussions are catalysts for change, and change is a catalyst for hope.

To focus, for now, on Stephen Fry and his comments about survivors of sexual abuse: Yes, he perhaps should have thought a little more about the language he used, the way he phrased his thoughts – but his thoughts aren’t wholly wrong.

When bad things happen to you – mental health issues, poverty, sexual abuse, abuse of any kind – you DO have to “grow up”.

Not in the sense of “stop being so silly”, but in the sense of becoming a mentally and emotionally stable, competent adult. Abuse, particularly, often strands people emotionally at the age at which the abuse started, or was at its worst.

No one wants to be an emotional child, surely? Surely, we want to have the emotionally functionality, the pleasures and enjoyments, of our peers? Surely, we don’t want to live caught up in a child’s fear and confusion – a frightened, sobbing, hiding twenty, thirty, forty, fifty year old?

We can’t demand that people “get it right” all the time. We can’t “no platform” people with whom we disagree. Disagreeable language, opinions, and attitudes need to be brought into the light, examined critically, and discussed rationally – with passion, yes, with the white-hot, furious heat of deep-held belief, yes – but, above all, rationally.  When we start jumping on the bandwagon of “isn’t this person awful for saying X?”, when we enter the echo chambers of people who will only ever agree with us, we lose something. We lose the negative, getting-it-wrong-and-offending-people that enables us to move forward into the positive space of discussion, understanding, and healing.

A book is not necessarily bad because a single page or chapter is. A person is not to be hated because they express an opinion that you hate.

When we limit what people can say, how they can say it, where they can say it, what they can think – then we rob the negativity of potentially damaging opinions of the positivity and creativity of healthy debate and discussion. We trap ourselves in the ultimate, barren negativity of remaining cocooned under our comfort blankie, in our bright-painted, fluffy-toy-stocked echo chamber of people who never disagree with us or challenge us.

And, without challenge, without debate, without people shouting, loudly, about things we find “problematic”, and insisting that we answer, rather than just shout “Privilege! Patriarchy! Misogyny!” at them, we slowly begin to die.

And when we die, they win.