The events of these past few weeks bring us yet another example of how powerful and damaging a person’s words can be. Rush Limbaugh’s misogynistic description of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke were along the lines of the usual vitriol he spews on his program to dehumanize various political adversaries.
Entertainment is one thing. Using comedy as an excuse to attack or degrade another person, though, is absolutely abhorrent. It is a free country, and a person can say whatever she or he wants, to a certain extent. But there are other rules that we follow, in homes or businesses or academic settings that do not have the power of law, but which are certainly powerful enough within their institutions.
We have them at Mercyhurst in the form of our core values, and while Limbaugh is by no means bound to follow them, we certainly are. There are plenty of people who still use words like slut and whore in their every-day word usage to refer to women, so I think examining the use of the words in light of these core values is relevant and essential at a time like this.
As students at Mercyhurst University, we are meant to be socially merciful, and the description says that, “Mercy restores human dignity.”
I don’t think I need to point out that calling an intelligent and outspoken woman a slut on the basis of her political beliefs is not in line with this value.
Being globally responsible is not just about taking care of our Earth, but “acting in solidarity with its diverse people.” Solidarity means mutual support within a group, and despite their widely varying political views, Limbaugh and Fluke are participants in the grand soap opera called American Politics.
As part of that solidarity, we all need to treat even our adversaries with respect and dignity.
To be compassionately hospitable, we are taught or must somehow learn to accept ourselves and the people around us in order to “build communities that transcend mere tolerance.” Is calling a woman a slut when you have no better way to challenge her argument leading us anywhere near tolerance, let alone allowing us to transcend it?
Being intellectually creative is more of an academic criticism than a moral one. If “slut” is the best insult a supposedly great entertainer can come up with, I would like to direct Limbaugh to a website called thesaurus.com, which provides a list of words that are equally derogatory but exceed the vocabulary of a high-school student.
Of course this is only part of the battle, and a creative writing class or stand-up comedy clinic might be in order to polish an incoherent stream of foul language into truly biting insults.
Self-reflection is the cornerstone of the value of reflectively aware. Thinking about what we do, what we say and how it reflects on us or will reflect on us in the future seems to be a lost skill.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey might have thought about the backlash he would receive from telling a Navy SEAL to shut up on camera and avoid a scandal. The same can be said for any public figure that makes an unfortunate word gaff.
While we may never truly say what we think, the words we use and how we use them still reflect the core of our beliefs and define how we look at the world, so we need to be critical of how we use them.