Human Face

Culture of insults and vulgarity

In his Pentecost Sunday homily four days ago, Pope Francis warned against what he called a “culture of insults” that is prevailing in social media. But not only in social media but also in many other public platforms, forums, debates, exchanges, where there are people to address and impress and not to edify.

When the Pope spoke thus, he must have had one eye on the Philippines, where he himself and the Church he leads have been the butt of insults from none other than the President of the Republic. President Duterte cursed the Pope for stalling traffic for hours during his 2015 visit when Mr. Duterte was not yet president.


Mr. Duterte’s vulgar utterances were made in 2018 when he was already president. Mr. Duterte would later explain his belated invective against the Pope: “Naiihi na ako.” He was caught in traffic at that time, his bladder was full and he needed to urinate. It was, for him, worth recalling and cursing about in public.

The word insult is defined as “an offensive remark or action.” As a verb, it is “to say or do something to someone that is rude or offensive.” Insulting someone is a form of bullying, of shaming, of demeaning, of diminishing the worth of the person being insulted, especially in the eyes of others.


But speaking the unpleasant truth about someone in a way that is carefully and deliberately phrased in order to drive home a point is not necessarily an insult, no matter how unpleasant it may sound. Some things have to be said.

For example, English writer Nate White wrote to answer the question, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” Excerpts:

“And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

“There are unspoken rules to this stuff — the Queensberry rules of basic decency — and he breaks them all. He punches downwards — which a gentleman should, would, could never do — and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless — and he kicks them when they are down.”

Any similarity to a person/s you know?

There is crassness, boorishness — in Filipino, kabastusan — in the way an insult is delivered. Note the words used, how they are delivered (if verbal), the body language.

But the nature of the insult also says a lot about the insulter. Is he/she sexist, ageist, racist, speciesist, lookist?  Might he/she be displaying megalomania? What are his/her motives? To get even, to make revenge, or to simply display one’s power by inflicting pain?


If the insults hurled in social media could kill, there would be fewer people on this planet by now. Some people do not like or agree with your opinion posted on social media, you get bashed, trashed, heckled, threatened even. Literally, though, bullying in the form of insults have led to tragic results among the young who cannot take the insults and would rather quit living.  Insults, especially from one’s peers, could be fatal.

When insults are delivered in a most vulgar way and, worse, as jokes delivered in public by a high official of the land for people to laugh at (and they do laugh!), there is indeed a culture of insults prevailing. The sad thing is that people become desensitized and inured to vulgarities and insults especially coming from those we expect to be the epitome of good manners and right conduct (GMRC).

Archbishop Socrates Villegas did say, “Vulgarity is corruption. When we find vulgarity funny, we have really become beastly and barbaric as a people.”

Because of public clamor, the Department of Education has revived the teaching of GMRC in the grade levels. I say, better late than never. Facebook and YouTube have lots of footage on what the opposite of GMRC is as displayed by known personalities. To learn the good and right, one might need to know the bad and wrong. Imagine a classroom full of grade schoolers being shown the vulgarities and insults uttered by the highest official of the land. Oh, no!

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TAGS: culture of insults, culture of vulgarity, GMRC, good manners, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, right conduct, Rodrigo Duterte
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