It’s difficult to understand the motivations behind the lessons we teach our children.
When I was little, I was told by parents and teachers that name-calling is wrong. The lesson I digested was that it’s inappropriate to speak disparagingly of others, particularly if my words act like slings and darts and cause great pain. As Jews, we’re instructed by our sages to speak cleanly, to use lashon nakee (pure speech).
Although it was said that “names can never hurt you,” the truth is they can. We’ve all felt the sting of verbal affronts. It can be agonizing to be called an idiot, a fool or a loser.
Yet when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s life began teetering, that lesson – not to partake in name-calling, the one we continue to teach our children today – completely faded away for so many, almost as if it never existed.
Barrages of invectives and abusive tirades began showing up, without excuses, in newspaper headlines, email threads, online articles and interviews, and in conversations between individuals.
Ford was regularly referred to as a buffoon and fat. For some reason, it seemed to be open season on our mayor’s weight, as if his fall from political grace was tied to his generous girth. Late-night television shows labelled Ford the younger brother of an overweight comedian who passed away a few years ago.
Ford has been called “scum” in conversations I’ve heard, a name generally reserved for the lowest of the low in our society, like bikers or individuals who rip off the elderly. The shine of our mayoralty has dropped like concrete falling off a cliff, and Ford has revealed the cracks of his character in a way that few of us want to see.
I think this husband and father has done something that’s truly anathema to the Canadian way – he has shown his weakness, and the wretched side of his spirit. While we felt sick to our stomachs, we called him names – the exact thing we tell our children not to do – and we did so because we felt compelled to tuck Ford’s fat away, back into his pants, so we couldn’t see it, and perhaps fool ourselves into believing it was no longer there.
Ford has made many Torontonians and Canadians wriggle in their seats. The fact he’s a large man who doesn’t follow the rules of this culture embarrasses us, because we do our ever-best to avoid seeming, feeling or looking fat.
The Canadian way is to hide the blemishes under layers of defensiveness and never mention this “hideous” physical defect. So when Ford’s tie is undone and his waist prominent, we turn red with disgust, because within his extra poundage, we see our own cellulite and lumpiness. We are a judgmental society that leaps at opportunities to take a pound of flesh from someone else, particularly if they’re in the public domain. So we call them scummy and useless, even though we know their children, and ours, are hearing these epithets.
Why? Because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
I believe Ford should leave his position immediately, because he’s under police investigation, has admitted to doing very illegal things and simply is not living up to the expectations of a “moral mayor.” I think it does matter what a mayor does in his private life, and it certainly makes a difference that the man in charge of our budgets and police force drives while inebriated.
I think an apology should be forthcoming, however, from the people of our city and all of those on-air hosts who made fun of this man with no concern for his reputation or theirs, and what we refer to as fair play.
I think, too, that we should be introspective and dig deeply to determine what it is about Ford and his actions that has turned much of the public into a mob, unconcerned with the societal ramifications of verbally tearing this man apart, cutting him into pieces through name-calling.
Why do we really care if our children call each other names?