Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sticks and stones... and stuff and nonsense

Some of you may wonder why I call my Blog 'A Gibo's Tale'. This will probably be obvious to any Gibraltarian. The answer is... because I AM Gibraltarian... and because we Gibraltarians are often called 'Gibos' or is it Gibbos? I'll stick to 'Gibo'... saves on typing!

Many Gibraltarians find this term offensive. I can't remember if I ever did, but I definitely do not now... not now that I'm all grown up anyhow.

I'm sure we can all remember, from the playgrounds of our youth, often hearing the old phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

I've been giving this phrase some thought recently. It came to mind in connection with a number of controversies that have rumpused across our TVs, Radio phone in programes and newspapers here in the UK over the last few months.... in various guises.

Earlier this month, we had the row over the BBC's sacking of Carol Thatcher from The One Show for allegedly referring to a tennis player off-air as a "golliwog"!

Chatting as she sat in the BBC green room after recording an episode of the evening television magazine program, Ms. Thatcher, it later emerged, said something to the effect that the French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has a white French mother and a black Congolese father, reminded her of a golliwog. Several people there complained and word got out to BBC officials, who said the remark was “highly offensive.”

The BBC fired Ms. Thatcher from her slot as a regular contributor to the program after, it said, she dismissed her comment as a “light remark” and failed to make an appropriate apology.

As a result, the BBC was deluged by thousands of angry complaints accusing it of overreacting. Many made the argument that there is nothing so horribly wrong with “golliwog,” anyway.... and I agree... it's just a toy for christ sakes!

“She was making a friendly joke, rather as someone of the same generation might say, ‘Ooh, he looks just like Rupert Bear,’ ” the columnist Charles Moore wrote in The Daily Telegraph. Alluding to a postwar group of Conservatives who responded to a description of the party as “vermin” by forming the Vermin Club, Mr. Moore suggested that Ms. Thatcher “start a Golliwog Club.” What a great idea... I wonder how long it will be before we are invited to 'become a fan' of this group on Facebook!

Then there is the matter of the queen’s grandson Prince Harry and the “Paki” video.

The video, made by Harry himself, showed him blithely calling a fellow Army officer his “little Paki friend.” Since Harry had once demonstrated a certain insensitivity to nuance by appearing at a costume party in a Nazi outfit, the incident was perhaps not so surprising.

Harry apologized; the army apologized; everyone fell all over themselves to denounce the use of “Paki.” Even his friends said that Harry had used poor judgment and bad taste.

Then, again, came the backlash against the backlash.

In The Daily Telegraph, the columnist Simon Heffer said that, sure, the incident was unfortunate but that “the barely concealed, self-righteous glee with which solemn, boot-faced toadies of the politically correct establishment queued up to condemn the Prince” was nearly as bad.

By way of defending Prince Harry, an Indian friend of the family named Kolin Dhillun, who plays polo with Prince Charles, revealed that Charles calls him “Sooty,” and that he doesn’t mind at all.

Perhaps it is a generational phenomenon, or an upper-class one, or a bit of both... but for me,having been termed a 'Gibo' forever... I have to say I find all this pretty much as 'stuff and nonsense'!

“What is disappointing is that lately all this vitriol and condescension seems to be all generated from the upper echelons of society, people who you would imagine would view themselves as being cosmopolitan and having a global outlook on the world,” said Jonathan Thomas, the secretary of 100 Black Men of London, a group that mentors young people.

He has a point. Prince Philip, the queen’s husband (and Harry’s grandfather) and the epitome of the old-school upper classes, has a famous history of insulting groups of all kinds around the world, from Scotland to Australia.

“Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf,” he barked at a group of young deaf people in Wales, referring to a loud band playing nearby. In 1986 he warned British students in Beijing that “if you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” Ha ha... Bless him... and what's wrong with that??!

Meanwhile, the Eton- and Oxford-educated Conservative politician Boris Johnson once referred to “flag-waving piccaninnies” in a column for The Daily Telegraph. In 2006, he managed to offend an entire country when he wrote about “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.”

Mr. Johnson then promised to “add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apology.” Last year, he was elected mayor of London.

Now I ask you... has the world (or Britain to be more precise) gone mad? Have our sensibilities... if not our sensitivities... been finally taken over by the twaddles of the politically correct brigade?

Unfortunately, too many societal groups seem intent today upon claiming that far too many words... always hurt!! Whoever believes this gets to feel hurt a lot and... to my mind, is always at the whim of some person out there intent on causing offence.

It has only been in recent years that significant questioning of a hurt response to such verbal slings and arrows has developed. In the gay/lesbian movement there was, at one time, much discussion over the words "fag" and "queer" with many of the younger generation of gays and lesbians claiming those labels publicly for themselves! In the same way, young blacks sometimes calling each other "nigger" has also been a parallel development. By so doing, these younger men and women, in my opinion, have increased their self-esteem, as well as making it impossible for homophobic/racist bashers to bother them with those words.

This, I think is a far healthier response and one which in pyschology academia, is considered as an example of empowerment. Ergo... A Gibo's Tale!

A few happier activists are even coming to a belief that there is no such thing as adult verbal harassment. They are viewing claims of verbal victimization very differently. Their view is that claimants of verbal harassment have often thrown away possibilities for verbal repartee and capabilities for moving away.

Most people these days think that nasty names "naturally" hurt folks. I think this sort of thinking is causing huge amounts of unhappiness and is at the root of all these controversies we have recently experienced.. and which we often term as the 'PC brigade' gone mad!

The process of name-calling is typically based upon feeling NOT OK, and name-callers are trying to make themselves feel more powerful by using the process. In the same way, those offended by name calling, are also seemingly there... just waiting to be offended or insulted... possibly because they themselves have a weakness, maybe even a chip on their shoulder. Here's the general psychological concept:

"If I call you a name and get you upset, then I temporarily feel more powerful because I had a powerful effect upon you. My self-esteem rises at your expense. I project my unhappiness on to you and you take it on if you allow yourself to be upset. If you do not get upset at my attempt, then I cannot dump my original unhappiness on you. Then I am left not only with my failure to successfully dump it on you but also with my original unhappiness to boot."

That's straight out of nursery school... or maybe the playground isn't it? But... it seems that's how it is!

For my money, if you're successful at being unbothered by their words, then the attempting offender winds up more unhappy and he'll probably soon stop bothering to use those words. Most of us learnt this at school, while growing up with our peers. Name-callers will usually feel worse if you do not react to their name-calling and very quickly will stop such behavior. If on the other hand you get visibly... or in any other way, upset... they'll just carry on.

It's about time, many in our wonderful culturally mixed Great Britain... learnt this simple bit of psychology... and stopped being so damn sensitive about far too much!

Gibos Rule! :)