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04/09/2004: What Goes Around, Comes Around

[This article has been updated. While this version is being kept online for historical thoroughness, I recommend you read the updated version instead. The new version can be seen here.]

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 onus, and one that is possible to achieve. 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.

So what does this have to do with the shepherd boy? I'm referring to the huge damage that Jesse Jackson (Sr. and Jr.), 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 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. I am, incidentally, an atheist myself; and think that these folks are doing far more harm than good to atheists. 99% of us are nothing like that, but a few idiot loudmouths are able to give us all a bad name.

Some day when racial or religious discrimination rears its head for real, people are going to think of Jesse Jackson, or the atheist troublemakers, or their counterparts in whatever the injured group is, and turn away; and genuine racial or religious injustices will occur. It will be allowed to happen because the general public just won't give a damn anymore.