Verbal Abuse is Real — But Not All Unpleasant Speech Qualifies as Verbal Violence

A free society must respect the difference

Brian Tubbs
4 min readSep 27


Two patrons having a disagreement at a cafe — image generated via MidJourney

Comedian Ricky Gervais has famously said:

Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.

One could also say…

Just because you’re offended (or emotionally hurt) doesn’t mean you’re the victim of verbal violence (or abuse).

It’s commendable that more of the world’s societies, particularly in the West, have become more sensitive to the pain caused by words.

But we mustn’t let our desire to stop verbal abuse lead to a decline in free speech. If we do, democracy suffers. And the concept of civilization itself is imperiled.

We must understand the difference between actual verbal abuse on the one hand and unpleasant speech on the other.

Important disclaimer: I’m not an attorney. I write as a concerned citizen who believes in democracy and free speech. And also as someone who genuinely cares about the mental and emotional health (and certainly the physical safety) of all human beings.

No one reading this article should conclude that I somehow support hate speech or any form of abuse or mistreatment. On the contrary, I’ve repeatedly denounced these things and called for more love, kindness, and civility.

Anyone who has read my articles knows my heart on these matters.

At the same time…

Freedom can’t exist long-term without free speech.

And free speech must include unpleasant speech.

Unfortunately, in America, we’ve become less resilient and more emotionally fragile in recent decades. All while getting more polarized.

That combination hasn’t been good for our mental and emotional health or for the health of our society.

As a result, many Americans are calling for limitations on speech, especially what they consider “hate speech.” This is often defined or understood to include any type of speech (or content) that anyone (especially…