Towards the end of the SCC's hearing on the Whatcott case (October 12, 2011), someone said words to this effect: "Contrary to what your mother told you about sticks and stones, words can and do hurt people."
This is a misunderstanding of what parents were actually trying to achieve when they used that old cliché. They knew thei
r kids were feeling hurt after being called nasty names. That's why they pulled out the cliché in the first place. But what they were really trying to tell their kids is, "Don't dwell on it. Don't let someone else's ignorance control your life. It's within your power to direct your thoughts. You can choose to ruminate over that insult and make yourself miserable, or you can choose to dismiss it and go merrily on with your life."
One of the worst problems with so-called "human rights codes" is that they promote exactly the opposite behaviour from what parents were trying to promote with the "sticks and stones" platitude.
Human rights codes encourage people to dwell on insults, to nurture grievances against belligerent ignoramuses, and--even worse--to claim a reward for feeling insulted. Yes, there's a pot of gold at the end of the human rights complaint. Someone was awarded $17,500 for feeling insulted by William Whatcott.
Hey, for that kind of money, it pays to feel insulted, doesn't it?
Nobody raised this point before the Supreme Court, but it's becoming obvious to me that Canadians are much more likely these days to brood over and obsess about minor affronts that they once would have dismissed. Human rights codes, like most other legislation, are producing unintended consequences. They are promoting the very loss of self-esteem they were supposed to prevent.
(cross-posted to The Justice Report, CCF's blog)