BASICS OF VERBAL SELF-DEFENSE 201
"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
So goes the playground saying. But it's not true… a wizard learns that words are power, perhaps the most powerful tool at your disposal. Words shape how we think and who we are… and the effects of spoken insults can stay with us much longer than physical scars.
Many people think that "since it's only words, it can't really hurt anyone, and can't be a real problem."
This is something that happened to a friend of mine when he was in high school.
A wizard needs to be aware of his environment-and that includes his social surroundings. A wizard needs to be a good communicator, one who understands what people really mean, and knows how to get his own meanings across to others. He doesn't get stuck in fights (verbal or physical) that he didn't expect, and he doesn't start conflicts by accident, or just to see how much trouble he can stir up.
In high school I used to have a friend named Tony. In retrospect, Tony was probably just entering schizophrenia. He was constantly jittering, going somewhere or doing something, and anytime you were around him, something happened, good or bad. He was extremely intense. I hung around him because he was totally fascinating, and we liked each other a lot. He seemed like a Rock Star to me, and was constantly talking about ideas he had to form a band, or do a comic book, and we used to have endless "deep" discussions about Pink Floyd.
Tony was always crackling with some sort of energy. At the time I didn't know it was the burning sizzle of incipient insanity. We hung out most of the time.
Anyway, one of the Pretty Girls passes us in the hall. She was the kind of pretty that happened in Mississippi in 1975, church-girl pretty, cheerleader pretty. Hair a little too blonde to be entirely real, and of course larger than it needed to be, a little too much makeup, but still attractive and beautiful enough for the time and place.
Tony, out of the blue, for no reason, looked at her with his crazy burning eyes, and hissed,
"You're not as pretty as you think you are."
The girl's eyes widened as if she had been struck, and she broke down crying right there in the hall. No lie. Gut-wrenching sobs. Tony walked on. I hesitated, but I was too much under Tony's sway at the time and followed him. I didn't say anything.
I tried to talk to him about it later, and how it took me back, seeing him suddenly lash out at a stranger with that kind of powerful cruelty. His only comment was "She deserved it."
At that point I felt something in me pull away from Tony. Sure, it wasn't right that neither of us could get dates, neither of us was in any Social Circle, and most people thought we were "faggots" or nuts. Socially we were way out on the fringe. Nobody liked us. But I knew within me that this did not make it right to strike out like that, out of pure hatred and raw envy.
Because you are hurt, or were hurt, does not give you the right to hurt another. That is what I wanted to say to him, and couldn't, because he couldn't hear it. He was too stitched up inside his own anger and his own contempt for what he regarded as fake and stupid. He rejected those who he felt rejected him, and he did it first. And faster, harder, and quicker, if he could.
That taught me two things: first, someone who seems exciting or stirring may be the absolute worst person in the world for me, no matter how Rock Star-like they may be. The thing that draws me to them is the Shadow that wants to Burn. That Shadow has its place, and I understand it much better now than I did then, but to feed that Shadow overmuch and allow it to take over - I learned from seeing Tony what that leads to.
The second thing that it taught me is that cruelty is not justifiable under any circumstances. I saw that girl he hissed at many times around the school. Fortunately, we were never in any classes together. But if she saw me in the hall, her eyes would flick away. I reminded her of what happened. There was a wall there that could never be breached. I could never make it right; I could never say, "I'm sorry for what my friend said that time," because she would accelerate her step and avert her eyes and go by me as fast as she could. I paid for my friend's cruelty, and she re-experienced that cruelty every time she saw me.
She was still pretty, still popular, still had many friends. But inside her there was always that hissing voice that said, "You're not as pretty as you think you are," undermining her, taking strength away from her. Unless she has learned to still that voice and use her own power to counter it, and I hope she has, it might still be there 29 years later. I hope it's not, that the memory is silent for good, may that be so.
This is a blatant, very simple verbal attack… that has probably scarred that girl for many years. Most attacks aren't that direct, because people who make attacks like that can't take part in many normal conversations.
Verbal abusers often use the excuse, "Well, at least I never HIT anyone!" This shows that they know they're causing harm-and deciding that it's okay to cause harm that doesn't leave marks. The other common excuse is, "I didn't MEAN to hurt anyone!" Think about that-if you were throwing rocks around without caring who they hit, do you think people would forgive you if you "didn't mean to hurt anyone?" Would it be alright as long as you didn't intend any harm?
Read the Verbal Abuse FAQ at the Verbal Self-Defense FAQ page, which explains the basics of verbal violence.
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