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Sacrificing free speech to avoid hurt feelings

By Scott Tibbs, March 12, 2014

The "ban bossy" campaign is absurd on its face, but what is more worrying is the increasing trend to suppress speech in the name of protecting someone's fragile feelings. Are Americans really so willing to take word after word out of our vocabulary because of the alleged harm it does to people and groups? How much are we willing to censor in order to not hurt people's feelings?

The campaign needs to face reality. Some children are bossy. This is not desirable behavior, and should be discouraged. There is a line between being bossy and being a leader, and that line is not always clear - sometimes, leadership and direction are mislabeled as "bossy." But children often do want to order other children around simply to establish dominance, and children will even be bossy with animals. Recognizing that line takes wisdom, discernment and a knowledge of the personalities involved, but bossy behavior should be discouraged.

But it is the mentality behind the campaign to "ban" the word is what should worry us. (Thankfully this is only a cultural ban, not a legislative ban. Yet.) Obviously, there are words we do not use in polite company, or in public. Curse words, obscenities and racial slurs fall into that category. We do not need to "ban" words we know are offensive and should not use, and if we use them we will get an appropriate reaction.

"Bossy" does not come close to being in the same category as the kinds of words we know instinctively we are not supposed to use, but because it can hurt some people feelings we are not to use it. And for all of the babbling about how the word "bossy" damages women's status in the workplace or academia (despite the fact that women are continuing to do better economically, the fact that this recession has harmed men more than women and the fact that women are now the majority of students earning university degrees) at least part of the motivation behind banning "bossy" is that people who actually are bossy do not want to be called on it.

We should always be suspicious of efforts to ban certain words or develop cultural speech codes, especially when the words being "banned" describe undesirable behavior. We are a culture that hates authority, judgment, and rebuke. We hate the very things we need most. So don't be bossy by seeking to ban harmless words.