INSULTS seem to be much more common today. Partly, it’s the advent of social media. An insult can fly around the globe in seconds, whereas previously insults were face-to-face or came by snail mail.

On social media I get insulted often, strangely, by evangelical young Earth creationists. I find that at once amusing, yet also a paradox. People who proclaim to be devout Christians find it acceptable to call me the “spawn of the devil” or ‘evil’ (and several other insults that the editor probably wouldn’t let pass due to their crudity) simply because I accept the science of evolution.

In a recent twitter “spat” I made a feeble joke about Tim Martin of Wetherspoons fronting a video for the “youth wing” of Brexit at the age of 63. I quipped that he was probably the average age of the “youth wing”. There was the inevitable, and anticipated, backlash from Brexiteers. My fingers hit the mute and block buttons for the most vile comments and insults. Sometimes, for fun and when I’m bored, I like to play around and turn the insults into compliments.

When one tweeter said, “you look older’ (I’m not), I thanked them for the compliment. I also like to turn well-known insults into compliments. For example, when I was subsequently called a “prat”, I turned it into “person recognised as talented”.

This started an interesting chain of tweets. Another anonymous tweeter called me “special”, but not meant in a good way. He/she was implying I somehow had special needs. It got me contemplating how unthinking people use difference as an insult. If anyone has ever worked with people with special educational needs or disabilities, they’d know such children and adults often overcome immense difficulties yet still achieve amazing things. They often bring joy into your life even though they require your support or attention.

That’s very draining for parents, carers and teachers, but they do it as they love or care passionately about people. In one sense it does take a very special person to do such work.

Take another insult, “cretin”. It’s a term freely used and thrown at people to imply you’re an idiot. I’m willing to bet that the majority of people who use this term as an insult have no idea of its origin and original meaning. The word comes from the Latin Christianus, which means follower of Christ. From there the word was seen in Swiss French as “crestin” finally, it appeared in Old French as crétin, first appearing in a French encyclopaedia in 1754.

Today, rather than its original meaning, that those who had physical or mental disabilities were still followers of Christ and human beings, we see it as an insult.

I’m not going to go through the various insults derived from difference, but if you think about it, many will be related to physical or mental abilities/disabilities. Even “boff” or “nerd” for those of above average intelligence can be used as insults. Such insults come from fear – people afraid of others who are different. Our monsters are often deformed or disabled people. Rarely, if ever, are people genuine “monsters” due to their differences or disabilities.

They are more likely to be the exact opposite. Sadly, this often leads us to underestimate people who display differences. In society we’ve been far too slow giving credit to people with educational needs and/or disabilities. We have been slow helping them achieve their potential.

For companies that have specific programmes of recruitment, training and help for the disabled and those with educational needs, thank you. I wish all companies would do the same. Some needs and disabilities, however, can be so profound that it genuinely does prevent people from working. It is a measure of our humanity and social responsibility how much we provide help and support for them.

In many ways our government is letting us down in this respect. There are far too many cases of people with profound and complex needs being assessed as “fit for work” when common sense should tell us they cannot possibly be fit.

Racism is also often born of fear of the differences we see in others. We are all human beings, we have far more similarities than differences and our fear is often driven by an ignorance of how others live, their cultures and social interactions.

We need to understand difference rather than weaponise it by turning differences into insults. We need to learn about differences such as special needs or disabilities and better understand those who come from different cultures. We need to improve our ability to empathise.