The sagacious Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “He who takes offense when none is intended is a fool. He who takes offense when offense is intended is a bigger fool.” The most efficacious means of voluntarily giving others complete control over us is by allowing them to offend us. The old truism “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” evinces the conviction that individually we have the power to allow others to “offend” us, or the discipline and maturity to not allow others that control over us. We choose, individually, whether to grant that power to another.
Sometimes, there are those amongst us who take offense for us. We didn’t give them that power to speak for us, nor did we lose our own voices in our defense, yet they assume the role of guardian of the public, usually for presumed victims of society. They perambulate through life with a massive chip on their shoulder just waiting, even daring, for someone to come along and knock it off so they can manifest immense righteous indignation at the insensitivity of those who may have even inadvertently knocked the chip off their shoulder.
We saw something like this a few months ago when Ines Sainz, an attractive female sports reporter, was the “victim” of cat calls and unsolicited advances by players and staff for the New York Jets. Ms. Sainz saw no harm in it. “It’s no big deal,” she said later. Yet there was someone there who did take offense and presumed to speak for Ms. Sainz in denouncing the team’s conduct. Obviously, Ms. Sainz is secure enough emotionally and psychologically that she didn’t feel threatened by the “sexist” antics of the overpaid adolescents of the Jets team. It was “no big deal” to her.
We had a similar situation here locally. Ralph Lillig was helping with several others working the elections and explained how he had a hard time deciding which armed forces football team to cheer for since he had served in all four branches of the military. That led contextually to a quip he’d heard from an elderly black gentleman in South Los Angeles about how Father’s Day is difficult for many of his race since they don’t know who their fathers were.
After the possible insensitivity of the remark was brought to his attention, Mr. Lillig subsequently went out of his way to apologize to all who could have been possibly offended by his remark. Yet to a few, this was not sufficient. They were resolute in not accepting the apology, even though some weren’t even there at the time, because the “chip” had been knocked off their shoulders and they resolved to make of Mr. Lillig an example. Rather than using a retold joke as a quiet teaching opportunity, the self-anointed “PC Police” took umbrage, never really accepted the apology, and sought to make an example of him. Interestingly, his attackers, who ostentatiously proclaim their roles with “Too Great To Hate,” hypocritically violated most of their own tenets they proclaim self-righteously to have pledged.
This incident was not about suppressing “hate speech,” this was about public humiliation for political purposes. You can be darned sure they wouldn’t have done to “one of their own” what they have done to Mr. Lillig!
Interestingly, Bill Cosby has been on a veritable soapbox about this same issue over the past decade. Many of his jokes and much of his book, “Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” address the underlying problem. True, it’s no laughing matter, but isn’t part of solving problems as adults having the courage and maturity to talk about them, even jokingly? Ford Chairman Alan Mulally has turned the “Found On Road Dead” and “Fix Or Repair Daily” jokes about Ford on their heads by creating an atmosphere of openness in his company where they can talk about the issues, even joke about them, in order to solve them. They are now manufacturing superior quality vehicles.
No wonder Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General, has said “We’re a nation of cowards” when it comes to race issues. We can’t really talk about it, even tongue-in-cheek, without some thin-skinned ideologue assuming the role of PC Police coming unglued and crying “Hate Speech!” with no attempt at civil discussion or debate.
We have no control over what others say about us. We can only control our own attitudes and what we think, say, and do. In a country where freedom of speech is sacrosanct, we solve these underlying issues through openness and dialogue, not by suppression. But to surmount our “cowardice” in addressing sensitive social issues, we have to all increase the thickness of our own hides and talk about them, otherwise they remain under the surface, unresolved, and in perpetual limbo.
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