I recently had a conversation about the current atmosphere of sensitivity, political correctness, and the pressure to please everyone. People seem to either be walking on eggshells or instigating for the sake of being controversial. Quite frankly, nothing tangible or sustainable is being achieved by these attitudes.
What’s the controversy all about?
Between the tear down of General Lee Grant’s statue and the renaming of the prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, we’re willfully erasing the history books. Isn’t it said that forgetting the past leads us to repeat the same mistakes? I do not condone slavery, slander, racism, sexism, homophobia, ethnic mockery, or any other form of inhumanity. But I also don’t understand how eliminating all evidence that these now-unacceptable behaviors can serve us moving forward. For anyone who has ever visited the Holocaust Museum, it is painfully and poignantly clear that wrongs were committed that we should never again repeat.
However, I’m under the impression that we are being overly sensitive on many issue. For example, Native Americans were not offended by the team names Indians and Braves nor the stereotyped mascots, and yet a group of Caucasian men decided to stand up and defend the group from the MLB. Then, a mom in Tennessee complained that the gynecological information in the nonfiction science book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is too pornographic for her 10th grade son.
I do not doubt people of color were deeply offended by a public statue which depicted someone who fought against the rights of their ancestors. I don’t question that someone read The Little House on the Prairie and felt attacked by the phase, “… there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” And I don’t doubt that some of the ideas and imagery presented in popular books are unsettling to some.
While we all have the right to feel offended and express our emotional response, I wonder just where the line is drawn. When a handful of people are up in arms over The Great Gatsby, pop songs, and art installations, are we simply supposed to ban them all?
Our lives are built of symbols. Books, statues, and people offer us new perspectives in the world as is was in the past, the world as it is at present time, and the world as it could be in an idyllic future. Every controversial relic contain wisdom, which each person has the power to distill and apply within their own reality.
Your aversion to that artwork may offer insights into your psyche, while offering someone else a good laugh. We’re focusing on the wrong things. We are not seeing the forest for the trees. And we are forgetting that we’re not alone in the forest called life.
How to we have these conversations?
Have you ever tried to logically reason with someone, only to have them emotionally shut down? Have you ever become passionate about a cause without fully understanding what is it was you were fighting for? Both of the above scenarios are highly common, and, in my humble opinion, a large reason that so little progress is made.
The triune brain theory suggests that the human brain consists of three layers–the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the neocortex–and that each individual person is guided primarily by one of these three areas.
The brain’s innermost reptilian structure is also the most primitive, controlling vital functions in support of basic survival. The limbic brain records memories of behaviors and emotions, and continually makes value judgement that strongly influence our behavior. The neocortex has infinite learning abilities and is responsible for human culture, language, imagination, and consciousness.
In conversation, we must pay attention to whether people respond with fear, emotion, or logic. The best tactic for progress in a discussion is to choose one point in another’s argument and say, “Yes, I agree with your thinking on this particular point.” Convey understanding, build rapport, discover even the smallest bit of common ground, and then slowly build upon the conversation from there.
Why do we need to stop protecting peoples’ feelings?
Each of us is part of at least one minority. Whether skin color, religious beliefs, career path, sexual preference, ethnicity, or propensity towards literature, we each have our own unique fingerprint. It is simply not feasible to create a world in which eight billion people are in full agreement with one another–a world in which no one is ever offended.
The Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort and anger, but it paves the path to true understanding. We need to stop coddling and allow people to experience the discomfort of big questions. This capacity for critical thinking allows us to solidify our personal identity, beliefs, and capacity for empathy.
There’s a saying that goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It seems as though people trying to protect others’ feelings is leading to bland world, increasingly devoid of free thought and free speech. We must keep in mind that modern media is funded by page views; since offensive articles are the most clicked, those are the kinds of stories we are exposed to, again and again. The profit-minded media is unlikely to change their tactic, so we must instead change ours.
What’s the next step?
The real solution here is to stop trying to protect everyone’s feelings, and instead focus solely on our own. Respect and empowerment emerge when we treat our peers as adults, regardless of their privilege, political standing, or belief system. We each have the choice to not be offended. We have the ability to discern intent. We are capable of separating someone else’s actions, provocation, or ignorance from our own. These traits of evolved consciousness are what set us apart from other animals, and they deserve the same respect as our fellow humans.