Child's Play, The Citizen, September
2017 Don't Offend Me
Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.
You would have to be a hermit living in a far-away cave
somewhere not to be aware of the political correctness debates going on in our
country these days.
As a parent and child therapist for many years, I find odd
how many times we would address a conflict or behavior with children and yet
choose another approach as adults.
Suppose you have a daughter who comes home from class
complaining that a classmate said something that hurt her feelings. I can’t even imagine a world in which a
parent would gather support from other parents, storm the school, and picket
outside demanding that those words never be used again.
More likely, we would tell our youngster to ignore it and
get over it. People hurt our
feelings. That is life.
Or what if a son didn’t like a painting on the wall in the
hallway at school? I have the same
questions as before and again, I just don’t believe we would encourage our kid
to organize a protest over it. Instead,
we’d say, “Don’t look at it.”
But for some reason as adults it seems much more reasonable
to demand that nobody should ever offend us.
Give me a break.
Please understand that I’m fully aware of the power of
icons. The swastika was a symbol for
good luck well into the early part of the last century until the Nazi party in
Germany hijacked it. Even the Boy Scouts
of America had the swastika on some of their tokens up into the 1930s. Regardless, today the swastika only means one
thing – neo-Naziism and racial hate.
I also understand that icons like flags and statues can be
painful reminders to some about our history.
But there is a big difference between a long-standing statue of the
icons of our American history and a swastika.
True, with few exceptions, Southern political and military
leaders during the years leading up to and including the Civil War were
proponents of slavery. But that wasn’t
the totality of their character and these men are a part of our history – both
the good and the bad. Those who call for
the removal of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington because Jefferson was a
slave owner, see him and many other founding fathers in a one-dimensional
manner – their only place in life was slave-owner.
This denies the incredible impact these men had on the
shaping of a country and Constitution that allowed this very complaint to be
addressed and corrected.
At some point we have to say, “Come on. If you don’t like the statue, don’t look at
it.” There is nothing in the
Constitution that says Americans should be free from ever being offended.
The “don’t ever offend me” crowd presents an argument that
will eventually collapse. What if your
“don’t offend me” comments offends me? Such
rhetoric can only be defended by a double-standard. Don’t offend me, but I can offend you.
In regard to our history, what are we to do? Remove all signs of our history from our
culture? Where would that get us? Should we remove every street sign that includes
the name of Jefferson, Washington, and other historical figures who held any objectionable
views? Should we change the names of any
park, city, or school that perpetuates the memory of anyone who was less than
At some point, we have to admit that history is
complex. Jefferson was a slave owner –
no doubt. But he was also an inventor, a
visionary leader, a brilliant scholar, and many other things. To reduce his life to a single objectionable
description would be the equivalent of supposing any of us should be seen
exclusively through the lens of one of our flaws. We are human.
So maybe there are two equally important responses to
debates over what to do with reminders of the past. There is a point where an icon – a swastika,
for example – is so offensive to the majority of viewers that it certainly
shouldn’t be incorporated into public life.
On the other hand, as we tell our children, believing that
you should never be offended is ridiculous.
Even more ridiculous is believing that the country should change in any
way you demand simply because you are offended.
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