English law and hurt feelings

David Epps's picture

As I referenced in a previous article, Tony Miano, a retired deputy sheriff and former chaplain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, was arrested in London, England and charged with “using homophobic speech that could cause people anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.”

Now, I am unfamiliar with the laws in the Mother Country so I am uncertain if the law pertains only to speech that can cause homosexuals “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult” or if it is a general law that prohibits one from causing anyone “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.”

If it is the latter, then the Brits are unwittingly allowing the wimpification of their citizenry.

I grew up in a world in which one expected, sooner or later, to be subject to “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.” Among boys especially, there is a pecking order. The order is established by fists, words, insults, responses, taunts, trash-talk and the like.

That may not be a good thing, but it is the norm the world over. If one cannot stand up to the application of even a few words of insult (much less the fists), one will be forever at the bottom of the pecking order.

In fact, boys and even men show friendship and affection by insulting each other. If you don’t like someone, you don’t insult them — you ignore them. Ever hear of nicknames the Mafia uses? Something like, “Johnny Three Fingers.” The name sticks because somewhere along the way Johnny lost two fingers and is now known as “Johnny Three Fingers.”

But wouldn’t this cause poor Johnny “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult”? No, it doesn’t because Johnny is not a wimp.

I know of a member of a motorcycle club whose road name is “Cupcake.” He doesn’t mind the name because he is one bad dude. It doesn’t cause him “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.” He is secure enough in his personhood and in his manhood to not be distressed.

Whatever happened to, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?” Do we actually need laws now to police speech lest someone get their feelings hurt?

Apparently they do in England. But we Americans like to believe that we are made of sterner stuff than to be brought to tears because someone calls us a name. Besides, it is expected that, if the name causes “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult,” the person being called the name will exact payment.

When I was a young Marine recruit, I heard people called certain names by the drill instructors. Names like, “Hey Redneck!” or “You, Hillbilly.” and so on. We had a kid in the platoon from somewhere up north whose name was Mautino. Once, on an unsupervised work detail, I tried to get his attention and called out “Hey, Wop!”

Private Mautino dropped his shovel and covered the ground between us quickly, his fists balled up and ready for action. Realizing I had done something, but uncertain as to what, I raised my hands in surrender pose and said, “Hey, hey, what’s the deal?”

I came to a sudden understanding that the words that the drill instructor used in reference to Mautino were not transferable to me. I had no idea that the word was a slur to Italians.

I stopped using it immediately for two reasons: (1) I liked Mautino and didn’t want to lose his friendship, and (2) I didn’t want to get punched in the face for causing him “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.” And that is how the real world works.

On the other hand, there will always be people who throw out insults Don Rickles style, and one must learn to deal with them.

I’ve been called a hillbilly, a redneck, a cracker, and names not fit to print. Rarely do they cause me “anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.” I either laugh it off, ignore it, or confront it. I do not need a law to keep me from getting my feelings hurt.

To my fellow English country folk (for I am of English stock), I say, “Good grief, Great Britain! You are the people who spit in Hitler’s eye when you were totally and utterly alone in the struggle! Man up and get over it! What would Winston Churchill think?”

To my American kin, I say, “If you need a law to keep you from getting your feelings hurt, then ‘shame on you.’ What would John Wayne think?”

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, Ga. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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