Whatever be the reason for Philippine President Duterte to use angry expletives in addressing the US President Obama recently, one thing is clear that ‘abuse’ is trans-national and could be used as a potent weapon at any level. Without getting into the details of it, every human carries this innate skill to use the abuse on cognitive demand.Unlike any other human expression, echo of a verbal abuse lingers longer than the resonance of few good words. It hurts longer than any physical injury, piercing through the calm confines of one’s inner self days on end. The trouble is that unless it is rebuffed there and then, its tone and tenor disturbingly persists. Since it cuts across all cultures and each social strata, it is surely an evolutionary trait that we have no option but to live with. For me, each abusive dual that I witness offers fresh insights on the subject. And there is no end to it in our daily lives, be it in our offices or on the street.
One such one-sided abusive session that I have been witness to is worth mentioning here. For the slightest of the design error, the editor would walk straight to the concerned and hurl choicest of abuses before resigning to his chamber to pen editorial for the next edition of the newspaper. Neither would bad blood spill on the floor nor would it brood insurgency in the office, the high voltage session would end soon with everyone resuming their respective duties. Rarely if ever this not-so-frequent event would get discussed during coffee breaks. It was indeed a ritual that must have carried therapeutic value for the ‘abuser’ and as much unpleasant respite for the ‘victim’.
Unless it spills over to being physical, I consider verbal abuse to be an ingenious human trait. Since both sides are often abusive at the same time, each serve receives a equally smart volley from the other end. If nothing, it helps soothe nerves and calm tempers. The best part is that it gives one the liberty to be the ‘abuser’ and the ‘victim’ under a given situation. Vexed by circumstances beyond our control, toss few abuses into the air and feel the difference. As verbal tirade dissipates destructive energy, the mind, body and soul return to a much-desired equilibrium. No wonder, in many cultures for the fun of it grandparents offer tutorials to kids on being abusive!
General consensus is that abuses are learnt outside of the home: from the neighbors, in the classrooms, on the streets, and now from country-heads. Rarely ever have restrictions been posed on being abusive, till it takes a violent turn. Though rarely acknowledged by law, verbal abuse remains an unwritten human right. Anyone who hasn’t exercised this right is unlikely to be normal, so I would think. Not without reason do husband and wife abuse each other, to be close and cozy again. It isn’t as much a psychological issue as it has been made out to be! Try asking Newton and he would say ‘it conforms to my third law’ – ‘to every action there is equal but opposite reaction’.
At the end of it, verbal abuse could be as much a vice as a virtue. Subject to how it gets used – though rarely people exercise control when they are embroiled in it – it could easily be tried as a tool to control acrimony between people. I often wonder if anyone would consider creating ‘abuse clubs’ in line with the ‘laughter clubs’ that we have. This is a therapy whose potential has yet to be fully exploited. I wonder what might have been the outcome had Bush and Saddam engaged in a verbal dual? Could war not have been avoided? May be!
Peace is a possible dividend that verbal abuse has on offer. Any takers!
(Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma is Director, Ecological Foundation, New Delhi, India)