Apples And Oranges

Someone insulted me the other day. Let me amend that—someone called me certain names at the end of an argument that I believe he hoped would insult me into seeing the cruelty of my position. To be specific, I was called insensitive and naïve. These were good choices on his part, for there was a time when calling me one or either of these things would have infuriated me into a sputtering defense which, while not an outright capitulation, would have been so incoherent and desperate that any jury would have returned a guilty verdict without deliberation. But those were days when I worried that I was insensitive and naïve. No longer, and so his words, barbed as they may have been, landed harmlessly at my feet. He might as well have accused me of being seven feet tall. Still, I was sad that I had in anyway propelled this discussion into an argument where this person I know well felt compelled to so label me.

This argument came about because he and I were looking at this piece of fruit called society, and he saw an apple and I saw an orange, and we both got it into our heads that we would withhold our approval of the other until he admitted the appleness or orangeness of the world. In end, he tried to turn me into one of the worms eating away his apple. I wasn’t a friend; I was the enemy. Yet in declining his insult, I declined enemy status as well, and he was left without a foe.

He did me a service in a way by calling me these names. It was only at that moment that I saw the futility of what I had been doing. It was only at that moment that I understood that he was not an enemy at all but someone I was attacking from restless insecurity. The argument ended immediately. I felt embarrassed, as if I had been caught talking to myself, which in a sense I had been. He was merely serving as a proxy for an idea I have long wanted to discard, an idea I wasn’t even certain he believed himself.

Whenever debates on free speech arise, the “power of words” is often cited as a reason to place at least some limit on expression. Words can heal, goes the argument, but words can also harm. Except they can do neither. Words merely paint a portrait of the world that we choose to see as real or not. No one can actually make us believe anything anymore than anyone could turn an apple into an orange.

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