How @BrooksGibbs Gaslit 10,000 High School Students

We must yield to the power of words. Even God has chosen words to communicate with his creatures like us.
— Munia Khan

Words Have Power

Sorry, Brooks... I get the gist of what you're trying to say here, but I have to call you out for missing the mark and gaslighting your entire audience of high school students.

If you've been on Facebook recently, you've most likely seen this video going around as a 'lesson for students on free speech'.

It's not.

It's pretty much a lesson in the normalization of verbal abuse.

At the beginning of the video, which I hope is an excerpt of a longer talk, Brooks comes right out and says that if someone says something that hurts you, it's your fault. In fact, he says

"If you believe that (words hurt, wound, and kill) you're going to be emotionally fragile, volatile, and overly sensitive."

He says that in the US, every citizen has the right to free speech, to say mean, hurtful, and hateful things. And he's right. To his credit he does say that it may be immorally wrong, but it is a person's Constitutional right.

He sets up that premise with a whopper of a strawman, saying "When you believe you have a human right that everyone be nice to you, you're setting yourself up for failure and creating a victimization mentality."

You see, it's your fault... not the one spewing the hateful rhetoric.

Now, is there a case to be made for hypersensitivity in today's society?


Just look at the recent cancellation of an annual showing of Gone With The Wind in Memphis. Not only is it a classic work of filmmaking, but it's also the film that brought about the very first Oscar for a black actor. 

But to say that we should just accept that people will say mean, hateful, spiteful, and hurtful things because, free speech, is short sighted.

Let's look at some statistics

  • 62% of Tweens (age 11-14) who have been in a relationship say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc) by a boyfriend/girlfriend. - Safe Voices
  • Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up. - Safe Voices
  • More than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship (26%) report enduring repeated verbal abuse. - Safe Voices
  • Nine out of 10 LGBT youth report being verbally bullied because of their sexual orientation. - NoBullying
  • Over 43.3 percent of children have rumors and lies spread about them verbally or online. - NoBullying
  • Over 77 percent of students have been bullied verbally, mentally, and physically.  - NoBullying

Where Brooks fails, and fails hard, is that he says if you're hurt by words, you're being over-sensitive and emotionally fragile.

He gaslit every single student listening to his speech that day.

Imagine being a high school girl, listening to that, and hearing an adult say that the mean and ugly things your boyfriend says to you are 'just words' and you're being 'over-sensitive'.

Imagine being an LGBTQ kid listening to that and hearing an adult say that the names you're called because you're gay are just words, and getting upset about it makes you 'emotionally fragile'.

Imagine being an 'outsider' and hearing an adult say that the names and taunts you endure day in and day out are just words, and that you have a victimization mentality.

This snippet of what I imagine to be a much longer talk, is dangerous.

It's dangerous because of the implication that if you're hurt by things other people say... it's your fault... and your tormentor has the right to be a complete douche to you, because, America.

If someone is being bullied, you don't be friendly to the bully... you stop them.
If someone is being verbally abused, you don't be friendly to the abuser... you stop them.

Brooks, as an anti-bullying advocate, should know better, and I'm sure he does.

I hope that in the context in the full talk this snippet isn't as cringeworthy as it appears. I haven't seen the full talk to know whether or not that's the case. 

So, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that, if he sees this, he'll rethink that section of his talk and see how he's rationalizing verbal abuse and bullying under the guise of 'free speech'.

If you're being bullied or verbally abused or know someone who is, seek help. Find an adult, a teacher, a counselor, or local authorities.

For more resources on abuse and bullying prevention see:

The Bullying Project
National Bullying Prevention Center