What Goes Around, Comes Around

We all remember the story of the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf. The shepherd boy who as a joke keeps running to his fellow shepherds yelling, “Help! There’s a wolf after my sheep!” and then laughing as they come running and find that there is no wolf. He has tricked them. He does this again and again, until one day the wolves come for real. He runs for his fellows and yells, “Help! There are wolves after my sheep!”, but instead of rushing to his aid, they all shrug and say “Oh hell, it’s him again.” The boy’s sheep are slaughtered by the wolves; and the boy has lost everything because nobody was willing to help him when he really needed it.

Robert Jamieson, Jr., writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, wrote an article that discusses a (white) high school teacher who has been put on administrative leave for having used “racially inappropriate” language in a (mostly or all black) class. Apparently the teacher made a sarcastic remark, and the kids took offense.

Jamieson states: “What you say is not always what people hear. That statement is a key element of diversity training.” Further along, “The freedom to say what one believes — even if the words are sarcastic or smarmy — comes with the risk of being misinterpreted.”

I believe that these two arguments clearly illustrate everything that is wrong with modern “sensitivity” issues; whereby if a person misinterprets someone else’s statement, it is the speaker who is assumed to be at fault. If you say something that offends someone else, even unintentionally, you have in the eyes of the self-appointed Guardians of Delicate Egos, commited a crime.

No matter what people do, someone somewhere is going to be offended by the words of another. This is doubly true when they seek out offense. Jesse Jackson and his ilk (not the only offenders in this) will always be able to find offense in something, because they actively look for things to be offended by. If nobody insults them directly, then they will be offended on behalf of someone else.

There are really only two ways to approach the issue in daily life. Either:

  • People need to consider, every time that they speak, every possible way that anybody might interpret anything that they say. OR
  • People need to consider, every time that they are offended by someone else’s words, the possibilities that a) the offense was unintentional, or b) that they have simply misheard or misinterpreted what it was they found offensive.

The first option has an enormous stifling effect on the free exchange of ideas, which this country is already experiencing. People who might have added to the social discourse say nothing, to avoid possible accusations — whether baseless or not. Accusations of this type have destroyed careers. (Jamieson points out a few examples of this in his article). When the onus is entirely on the speaker, it is literally impossible to avoid offending anyone, short of never saying anything ever.

The second option puts the onus on the listener, but it is a far smaller responsibility, and one that is possible to fulfill. The biggest manner that this could be implemented would be to quit punishing people for “offensive” actions when the offense is clearly not intended; along with putting a stigma on people who make accusations without considering the intent of the speaker.

The article, upon citing two other teachers who have been blamed in similar incidents, then states:

Cleveland High isn’t the easiest teaching post in the Seattle district.

Some of the students aren’t enthused about learning and some parents don’t exactly knock down the door to get involved in the education of their kids. The school’s budget — like the rest of the beleaguered Seattle Public Schools — is tight. A teacher must possess tenacity and humanity to inspire Cleveland’s students — even if it is a tough environment, where some students feel “the man” is out to get them and are quick to blame outsiders for the school’s woes.

I agree that being a teacher in a poor public school can not be easy; but this is precisely why the district should not be so eager to shoot down their best and brightest. These teachers have a dedication to teaching these kids (or they wouldn’t be there), and the schools are throwing further obstacles in their path — all the while scratching their heads and wondering aloud why it’s so hard to give these kids an education that’s worth anything.

I am reminded of the recent case in which a white Southwest Airlines flight attendant recited a variation on a children’s nursery rhyme: “Eenie, meenie, minie, moe; pick a seat, we gotta go.” Two black sisters took offense at this, deciding that it was targeted at them, because once upon a time there was a a racist version of that same rhyme. Never mind that the flight attendant had never heard of that variation (nor had I before reading this story); the women are suing the airline for discrimination and demanding that the flight attendants be sent to Sensitivity Training to avoid such a thing happening again. This pretty much falls under the category of offenses that, from the speaker’s side, could only have been avoided by never saying anything to anyone, ever. If she’d never heard the racist version of the rhyme, she could not possibly have known that it might offend. On those grounds alone the case should have been thrown out of court at the first hearing. The only racists here are the women flinging the accusations.

So what does all this have to do with the shepherd boy? I’m referring to the huge damage that the Jesses Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the like have done to the cause that they supposedly hold dear. The national environment wherein it is impossible for blacks and whites to have a frank discussion of race, because too many blacks have been trained to take offense at nothing. The environment wherein a person can point a finger and cry “Help! Help! A Racist!” and destroy a reputation. An environment wherein a book such as Huckleberry Finn can be banned from libraries because it contains the word “nigger”; and Disney neglects the release of one of its most famous movies, Song of the South, because the Black Community™ takes offense at the accurate portrayal of black speech patterns in the Old South.

This is not limited to racial issues. I can also point to the atheists who run around suing towns for putting up Christmas displays, or the Ten Commandments. “Church and State! Church and State!” they cry, sounding not so much like the shepherd boy as Chicken Little, and down come the displays; (and lest you’ve forgotten, Chicken Little was eaten for his trouble).

The high school teacher made a sarcastic remark in a way that commented in race relations, in a manner that might in other circumstances have opened a useful discussion among the students about just that topic. Instead, the powers that be have thrown the book at him and closed off any such possibility now or in his future career (assuming he still has one). Some day when racial or religious discrimination rears its head for real, people are going to think of the “Southwest Sisters”, or the atheist troublemakers, or their counterparts in whatever the injured group is, and turn away; and genuine injustices will occur. It will be allowed to happen because the general public just won’t give a damn anymore. In the meantime, any honest attempt to address the social issues these groups are ostensibly trying to fix will be stillborn under the weight of self-serving lawsuits and accusations.

Before you accuse someone of insensitivity, be sure that an offense has actually been committed. In other words, be sensitive to their meaning and intent.

[28 April 2004: This entry has been edited (mostly in the second half) in response to some reader comments, in order to smooth some rough edges and clarify things a bit. The original can be found here.]

UPDATE: Fox News has an interesting article that touches on some of the issues I discussed here.

3 Responses to “What Goes Around, Comes Around”

  1. Dan Janowak Says:

    This is incredible. I like it a lot.

    But at the end it abruptly ends on a subject that is different than the main topic of everything else. And it interjects an opinion, which changes the tone of the whole article from informative to persausive speech. Perhaps convincing yourself of something? Maybe you are driven by reaction to speak out in your own voice?

    Re-verifying and viewing the entire article according to the final sentences classifies the article as a political writing vested in taking a position and attempting to use it to sway the masses. err… audience. um self. oh heck masses.

    As I said I like it a lot, until the end. Most people easily agree with the first points and continuation, until finally the reader is led to a place of the writer’s chosing and is suddenly ‘ambushed’. Doh where did that sudden left or is it right turn come from?

    But it is difficult when writing about touchy subjects, especially one’s own subjects that bring fire to the belly, to not suddenly get wrapped up in the discourse and make things personal. "They make me look bad!" Is the cry. And then beyond that is a reason for everyone to think that these people need to be constrained.

    So in retrospect it is informative and everyone can agree to it and stays that way but begins to tread into new areas that are relevant before a personal reason for writing pops up and is quickly followed by a general appeal to many to believe things are or will be a certain way. "Some day…"

    Personally, I think that the so called ‘atheists’ are more akin to anti US folk. And please keep in mind that I’m referring to the tiny microscopic population "…who runs around suing towns for putting up Christmas displays, or the Ten Commandments. "Church and State! Church and State!" they cry, sounding not so much like the shepherd boy as Chicken Little, and down come the displays."

    Most times I look at the message that a person or group has to determine the slant or spin being taken. This includes girlfriends of mine who ask me questions and as I listen in all of the ways that she is talking, including boby language and tone, and what I look for is not just what is being asked by speech, but how many questions are being asked along every possible means of communication that I am capable of interpretting. Then I try to answer all of her questions, spoken and unspoken with one reply.

    I don’t want to get off track. I want to point out how I have come to look at messages, including the athiests who try to pull down culture. The attack isn’t on the religious culture. It is on the US system of laws and US culture. If it were on the religious culture, then the attack would be focused elsewhere in society. That makes the message anti-US.

    Muqtada al-Sadr aligns himself with Hezbollah and begins his words talking about the Iraqi people and ends up talking about fundamentalist and radical Islam and how it is the religion of peace, which incidentally comes once the whole world is converted by its form of evangelism.

    Jesse Jackson is belligerent, no doubt about that. But his role was and to a certain extent is still necessary even though I don’t like it or how he does it. By being loud he causes a reaction that specifically turns a section of the population away from certain forms of discrimination or comments from the regular citizen. It’s my opinion that this happens because they don’t want to even remotely sound like him.

    But the old dog came from a different time than we do, a time when his rhetoric was necessary.

    I’m also surprised that this article doesn’t mention the Jersey Wives or the Jersey Four, who appear to be fed lines and stances by the person who will be their publisher etc. But they too, like the atheists attacking US law if not culture, are a microscopic part of their respective groups. Most of the families of the 9/11 tragedy know who the enemy really is.

    "I am, incidentally, an atheist myself; and think that these folks are doing far more harm than good to atheists."

    Um a question. Is there any group that does not have loud mouths, rabble rousers, trouble makers, or ‘evangelists’ that take the extreme view or ‘a’ extreme view? And that these few are in an extreme minority of their group such as less than .1% or .01%?

    Does that certain dancer who used to slide himself against women whether they liked it or not give most dancers a bad name? [Strider’s note: Dan and I are both swing dancers in the Chicago area.] And he is well known in many dancing communities in other cities in the US and probably in Europe too for the same actions. I have heard comments of rare others, perhaps 3 others in my 5 years of dancing that one or two comments had in all been made about each of these other three about indiscretion with their hands. 1 person essentially ensured I never even went close to crossing the line because there is no way I want to be interpretted as this guy.

    It comes down to manipulation. An extreme minority changes the behavioral pattern of the main group and mostly away from that extreme view. Is it any wonder that most of US culture is centrist in many fashions? An odd view of this is that the extreme views pen in or ‘stabilize’ the center, including jury manipulation in court. (i.e. the legal kind of jury manipulation).

    But it also comes down to 1) What people say is true and we should learn to deal with it. or 2) What people say is false and we shouldn’t care.

    But it occurs to me that we wouldn’t know about all of these things or it wouldn’t be such a big problem if they didn’t sell good copy (doh, the media rears its ugly head again, or is that power has finally corrupted the media? um finally? πŸ˜‰ ). The lone atheist takes on the US, or the little courthouse in Boboken with a small budget. Media gobbles it up even if the lone one has 2000 times the level of financing of the courthouse.

    Defense takes money and effort. Drain the opposition coffers and they won’t have money for the real battle and hence the war is won. It is my opinion that the real seige on church vs state hasn’t begun because it is not time for the final push. Right now the cases all have the feel of minor skirmishes building up precedent by semi innocuous cases.

    So I kind of to mostly disagree with your final comments. The trouble makers cause a reaction in the people, including yourself and the most indicative response is away from that extreme. And when the real church and state issue hits, it will have built itself up through lots of cases and the precedent will be unavoidable. To counter this there would need to be a counter movement and quite possibly just a massive grass roots movement.

    The US is ruled by the majority and the extremist lobbies. If the majority makes it so, the minority must deal with it. Hence the proper course of action against the anti-US cry of certain ‘atheists’ about church and state is to provide weak and inexpensive resistance to drain the opposition coffers while at the same time creating a grass roots movement to make ‘Under God’ an undeniable part of state or federal law. If over 90% of the world believes in God… then this statement boils down to a recognition of God. Of which 90+% of the world and probably US would agree that it needs to stay with us.

    In the end, this battle is going to come down the will of the people of the US. Fighting it in any other fashion is just going to cost money. But it IS an excellent place to ‘train’ new lawyers and orators. Hence the fight shouldn’t be abandoned, it should be shifted to where it can be undeniably won, while providing training for new folk. When the time comes for the grassroots movement, points of contact are going to be needed and it would be best if they were the ones with direct experience regarding the cases and tactics of the opposition.

    The way to do it could be to let the anti-US atheists stir up commotion and trouble, which should turn 90+% of the population against them. In time that will fuel the massive grassroots movement. Use the opposition against themselves. Let them spend the money ‘advertising’ to the grassroots movement. Let the extremists provoke the mainstream enough to create the massive cry of injustice.

    I think we see some things differently. πŸ˜€ … even if we agree on some things. But please remember I don’t think like most people. When they say think outside the box, I don’t change how I think. πŸ˜€ I’m already outside the box.

  2. Strider Says:

    Two Things. First off, you said:

    “But it also comes down to 1) What people say is true and we should learn to deal with it. or 2) What people say is false and we shouldn’t care.”

    The problem here is that you can’t just ignore these types of accusations. If someone accuses me of racism I can’t just ignore it if it’s going to cost me my job or massive lawyers’ bills defending myself.

    Second, is that the idiots’ actions turn around and bite _other people_ in the ass. Personally, I don’t think that “Under God” should be in the Pledge of Allegiance; (and contrary to popular belief, it is NOT in the original — it was added in the 1950s) but the instant I suggest such a thing, I am lumped in with the idiot .01% and completely dismissed before there can be any discussion. As I said, it has a corrosive effect on the free exchange of ideas.

    You can’t just not care, as you suggest, because the resulting lawsuits are undermining the structure of our society. (I’ve got to be careful here, because I’m on the verge of drifting into yet another discussion — that of our overly litigious society)

    Regarding your discussion of my sudden "right turn" in the post: I agree that that point of the article is a bit clumsy, but they _are_ the same topic. The race-baiters and similar types have created the "cry wolf" society that gets teachers fired for unintentional offense. They are the ones who, intentionally or not, set the precedent that "If I _feel_ that I’ve been offended, the other person must have done something wrong," as well as the legal precedents that give that screwed up outlook the societal power to destroy innocent lives.

  3. Dan Janowak Says:

    It is true that many of them can not be ignored. But the comment of 1 and 2 is about not letting the comments impair the judgement or the response. If one’s judgement is not impaired, then it is easier to see which battles need to be fought and which ones can be won. At least that is how I use them. And that doesn’t mean I will fight them because sometimes people are just blowing off steam.

    If it comes down to losing your job or lawyer bills, that is another issue, but those can many times be defended by the proper response or posture, except against opponents that are out to get you even if only because ‘you’ are reactive. Who do people tickle and poke? Those that react. It isn’t as much fun to tickle someone who isn’t ticklish. And it is ‘dangerous’ to tickle someone who is less ticklish than yourself. πŸ˜€ I don’t get tickled much. πŸ˜‰

    I know it isn’t in the original.

    I can choose not to care until I can fight a battle that can be won. And I can’t effectively do that until I understand the underlying mechanisms and forces involved. Or simple understand the battlefield, the players, and the technology or weapons of war.

    The ultimate weapon in the ‘Under God’ saga is the will of the people. i.e. The majority and the special, wealthy, and extremist lobbies. Who is or who are the powers behind this one guy running around suing courthouses? Who is fueling him and providing aid to him? Anyone who wishes to see it come down, including some believers who also don’t believe it should be there.

    Who is the opposition? Or rather who is on which side? If you don’t know the ‘target’ audience then it is hard to sell the target audience on a particular goal. That is partly why you got lumped in with the ‘idiots’. And since this appears to be a hot topic for you, you might lose some reserve or judgement while jumping into the fray. That can be fun, but it won’t be easy to win – i.e. you won’t change the mind of someone who believes something to be true by telling them they are wrong. A sometimes effective way to ‘change’ the mind of a believer is to let them change their own mind by giving them reasons to think about changing their own mind.

    In this case I doubt you could get a believer to recant a belief in ‘Under God’, but you might be able to get them to shift where it should rightly occur and hence shift the onus. But telling people they are outright wrong is more dangerous to one’s goal because it generally backfires and you are instilling greater resistance in the opposition.

    I am not the best arguer or implementer, but I have learned which stances to avoid in many situations. I still have a lot to learn about situational issues and of what not to do or say to particular people or groups.

    I think merely saying that our society is overly litigious is probably a sufficient argument for almost everyone. If you find someone who doesn’t agree with that statement… you could probably have some ‘fun’.

    One thing about arguing is that coming out and taking an immediate stand often leads to revealing your position and hence giving the opposition opportunity to immediately attack or by softly or otherwise countering. But by broaching the subject with a simple comment you eliminate all but the personal attack which then looks foolish or overzealous, especially if you pause or don’t respond or just say "How do you get that from what I said?" …according to the situation.

    The simple statement "Our society is overly litigious." followed by silence leaves the conversation implictly up to the ‘audience’ and will allow other people to define their positions, including their support for your comment.

    Some might ask you to define what you are talking about and then you can launch into what has you tangled up so much to make that comment… or merely state that it had just crossed your mind just then, even in the back of your mind you eventually know the point you want to make.

    Do you make the point or do you develop the relationship whereby eventually the point or perspective can be understood?

    The simple opening stance garners more support than launching into making a point. Sometimes the same is true for a closing statement. πŸ˜‰

    And ‘you’ from me is usually the generic ‘you’ as opposed to you, but you as opposed to ‘you’ can probably figure that out. πŸ˜€

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