Micro-aggressions: weaponised words and weaponised sensitivity

Weaponised words

Those who follow the teacher of the Sermon On The Mount are open to seeing the deep and awful reality of small things. A lustful look and a hateful word are in the same moral realm as adultery and murder.

So the newish language of 'micro-aggression' to describe apparently small words and actions ought to ring true to us. We know how a choice of words can crush, dismiss, tempt, distort. Sticks and stones can break your bones and names can really hurt you. Words can, as I read somewhere recently, become 'weaponised'.

Words draw their meaning from social contexts and personal experiences. A word or action can become very loaded with powerful and painful social connotations. So in addition to guarding our motives, we ned to also consider the other person and how they will hear us. More than this, we need to ask and listen carefully to understand how words and acts that seem like 'no big deal' to us might actually carry enormous significance to others!

In this sense, 'political correctness' is about love. About courtesy and considering the other person, over and above ourselves and our rights to say what we jolly well like. The burden of 'getting our language right' is the burden of living well with others. It's not something to grumble about, but something to step towards.

Weaponised sensitivity

The human heart is crafty and sinfulness is universal: it corrupts the powerful and the oppressed, the hurtful and the insulted, the loud mouthed and the fragile. And so it's possible for those who advocate for courtesy and sensitivity to lose sight of the right goal of love and become fixated. The wonderful critical tools of especially the last half-century have equipped us to think well about how words can become weaponised.

But these same critical tools, when wielded recklessly, give a new form of power-play: what could be called 'weaponised sensitivity'. Although a massive burden of responsibility lies especially on the shoulders of the powerful to use their words in love, there remains a general responsibility that we all share: to be resilient in the face of hardship, to seek to understand the intent of the other person no matter how thoughtless they might be, and so on. Otherwise, 'weaponised sensitivity' can fuel hatred in our hearts.

Although hateful words are in the same category, as Jesus teaches, that doesn't mean that they are absolutely morally equivalent. Although hateful words can be deeply hurtful, to the point of leading to effect that can be profoundly harmful, this doesn't make the words in and of themselves harmful. Although it is common for the powerful to minimise their guilt, it is also possible for the oppressed to exaggerate it, in a resentful power play of their own.

Even while we hurt, we have the responsibility to seek, as much as we are able, to be generous and gracious and flexible with others. Even while we are vulnerable, we have the capacity to grow in resilience. The burden of 'having to put up with this crap' is actually the burden of living well with other people. It's not something to get fed up with, but something to patiently bear with.

Speak the Truth in Love and Seeking Justice with Grace

If we maintain the freedom to speak the truth but have not love, we are merely rude Philistines.

If we advocate for courtesy but have not love, we are merely resentful Pharisees.

We need to cultivate love in our hearts and an ethics of love in our civic life.

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