Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do Words Hurt?

Over at Above the Law, Elie Mystal argues that "words don't hurt anybody" and that people in Canada should just "chill" when it comes to uncivil behavior by certain members of the bar. 

I am going to have to take issue with the statement that words don't hurt anybody.

This simply is not true. Hostile words can inflict stress and cause a stress hormone known as adrenaline to rise, causing people to go into fight or flight mode. Unfortunately, neither fight or flight is usually an appropriate response in our modern society, so there is often no useful outlet to return our bodies to homeostasis.

Excessive stress in turn can actually increase your physical age by causing your chromosomes to degenerate. For evidence, go here.

Excessive stress is also associated with high blood pressure, the development of varicose veins, and an increased risk of heart disease.

Excessive stress may also result in increased levels of visceral fat (aka "belly fat") which in turn is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and diabetes.

Excessive stress may increase the likelihood of developing cancer. See this Scientific American article on that point.

Excessive stress may also impair working memory which is needed to reason, comprehend, and learn. It may also impair spatial memory.

The bottom-line is that the old adage that "stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is simply false. It is understandable that people would want to think that this is true, because the negative physical health effects of the stress we inflict on others or that is inflicted upon us is not immediately obvious. But over time, the effects of incivility can and will add up and even possibly result in negative health outcomes.

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