As Executive Director of Break the Cycle, I get to work with young people to help them understand the sometimes subtle differences between healthy, unhealthy and abusive communication -- which is why Rush Limbaugh's recent abusive comments made towards Georgetown Law Student Sandra Fluke are particularly hair-raising. If the teens and young people we educate can "get it," I certainly hope the concept is not too difficult for a self-proclaimed pundit like Mr. Limbaugh.
I thought it might be helpful to offer a few tips to Mr. Limbaugh because I think we can all agree that public discourse should not mirror the communication style of abusers. To break it down for you:
- Name-calling: Merriam-Webster defines name-calling as, "the use of offensive names especially to win an argument or to induce rejection or condemnation without objective consideration of the facts." Calling someone a "slut" and a "prostitute" is an inappropriate and ineffective way to communicate your feelings. In this instance, Mr. Limbaugh used this tactic to belittle a young woman stepping out in the public sphere to advocate for her rights. Clearly paying little attention to the facts of the situation, as Mr. Limbaugh has no personal knowledge of or relationship with Ms. Fluke, he leveraged extremely negative, harmful words to elicit public disdain. At Break the Cycle, we encourage young people to avoid name-calling. It is mean-spirited, hurtful and generally only serves to offend.
- Diverting: At Break the Cycle, we teach young people how to deal with conflict in a direct and healthy manner. We also assure them that is perfectly normal to disagree with other people but it is important to be respectful nevertheless. One of our tips is to focus on the facts and not divert on emotional tangents or unrelated topics. Mr. Limbaugh's assertions about Ms. Fluke's personal life have nothing to do with providing insurance for birth control pills. In the future, I'd recommend Mr. Limbaugh consider keeping to the issue at hand if he intends to make a valid argument.
- Gendering: Mr. Limbaugh's attack was a classic example of using gender-based stereotypes as an attempt to silence his perceived opponent. Sexualizing Ms. Fluke's testimony on the medical benefits of birth control was unnecessary and unfortunate. At Break the Cycle, we train young people to avoid relying on gender myths and stereotypes in a disagreement -- both those that sexualize women and those that emasculate men. It only reinforces unhealthy dynamics and impedes the ability to come to a resolution.
We need more people like Ms. Fluke who are willing to take a risk and stand up for what they believe. I am proud that Break the Cycle had the opportunity to work with Sandra. As often seems to be the case, we have learned much more from Ms. Fluke than we could ever teach her.