Monday, January 12, 2015

One more thought about it

Perhaps one other bright spot that could come from the horrors in France? (Other than the fact that many, many people stood up, and effectively said, "I defend the freedom to speak, even if I disagree with that speech")

Perhaps people in the West will start looking at the "microagression" culture and going, "You know? forget that noise." People maybe will straighten their spines, open their eyes, and stop looking so hard for stuff to get offended about.

Are people gonna say offensive stuff? Yeah, they will. I've had people say offensive stuff to me, probably will have someone say something to me this week that I could take umbrage at. But a person has to decide at some point whether it's better to shrug off most cases of a person being an ass to them, or whether it's better to go around perpetually upset and chewing other people out.

(Note: I do reserve taking someone aside for a "come to Jesus" meeting if they do something really beyond the pale, like using the c-word-that-is-extremely-offensive-to-most-women to describe me. And then I'll watch them: if they apologize and change, everything's cool. If THEY get offended and say it's their right to say insulting things to me even when I've asked them to drop one particular insult: well, yes, it is their right. But it's also my right to have as little to do with them as possible in the future, and that's what I'd do, even to the point of, if it were a coworker, going to a higher-up and saying, "Please never put me on a committee with this person, and here is why.")

Because the thing is, you don't know what will set someone off. I admit, I laugh at a lot of the off-color jokes colleagues occasionally tell. (I don't tell them myself; I don't quite feel I can get away with it). But other people might be really offended by them. I once had a student minorly freak out in class over a photograph of a snake in a PowerPoint presentation, and I once had a student who was so afraid of birds that she would not approach the stuffed and mounted specimens out on display for one of the labs, and in fact, opted to lose the points on that part of the lab.

However, neither of those students went to my higher-ups to report me for "creating a hostile environment" and if a colleague told a really gross and in-my-opinion beyond-the-pale joke  in my hearing, I'd not go to HR. (I MIGHT, depending on the joke, later on tell them in private I didn't find it funny, but my general inclination is to let stuff like that drop)

And yes: going to HR over something is not the same as shooting someone. But it does stem from, perhaps, a similar impulse - a desire to control, to shut other people up, to only ever hear things that fit in with the narrow band of what you "want" to hear. (I am now also thinking of the arguments some of my Christian fundamentalist students have raised over "having" to learn about evolution in biology....)

Some commentator or other was opining that for everyone on a US college campus raising the Nous sommes Charlie banner, that person might also consider working to see speech codes dismantled. Or not be so fast to dub someone saying something stupid as "hate speech." People say all kinds of stupid things and I tend to think the proper response for someone saying something stupid is generally to roll your eyes and perhaps point out the stupidity of it. (Perhaps some in politics might have benefited from that treatment earlier in their careers....)

When someone uses offensive language that "nice people" don't use* - whether it's against blacks, women, gay people, Asians, or whoever - well, I tend to think that tells you something about the person using the language, rather than the person they're using it against. (My father is fond of saying that "one of the beauties of free speech is that the assholes self-identify.") And as a result, you can tell yourself, "I really don't want to hang out with that person." or "I don't trust her judgment."

(*They don't use it not so much because they're afraid of backlash, but because they do not do to others that which would be abhorrent to them. Golden Rule, people)

The thing is, everyone's gotten so hair-trigger. To the point where colleagues wonder if they need to put "Trigger Warnings" on more sensitive content in their classes. While I get in some special cases you have to take care - I've had students with PTSD and other issues in the past - I also think one of our duties as adults is to be adults and take responsibility for our own feelings. Yes, some college classes contain uncomfortable material - in some cases, that's kind of the point, to get beyond what is merely comfortable.

And as a professor, I personally hope we swing back to a more free-wheeling, free-speech style on campus - I admit sometimes I worry that something I say inadvertently may get me called on the carpet, and I know based on my record and past history I would ultimately be forgiven, but still, what a hassle.

And also, to go around in a perpetually-offended state: how tiring that must be. How much more preferable, I think, to use that energy to study or play the guitar or throw pottery or play tennis or any hundreds of other choose to be happy, and to choose, if someone says something asinine, to chalk it up to awkwardness or foot-in-mouth disease. I know for me, about 85% of the time when someone I know says something that causes the mental phonograph-needle-screech for me, it's that they're overtired, or awkward, or upset, or trying to make a joke that has gone very wrong. And so I shrug, and forgive them. And in a lot of cases, they come to me later and go, "That thing I said? It was stupid."

It's happier, I find, to go through life assuming that when people say really unfortunate things it's not intentional, and that stuff that happens is just stuff that happens, and not stuff designed to thwart one's own personal happiness. And I hope some of the other people I've met, who seem to go around looking for people to "sin" in their speech decide this as well....

No comments: