Don’t offend me

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You would have to be a hermit living in a far-away cave somewhere not to be aware of the political correctness debates going on in our country these days.

As a parent and child therapist for many years, I find odd how many times we would address a conflict or behavior with children and yet choose another approach as adults.

Suppose you have a daughter who comes home from class complaining that a classmate said something that hurt her feelings. I can’t even imagine a world in which a parent would gather support from other parents, storm the school, and picket outside demanding that those words never be used again.

More likely, we would tell our youngster to ignore it and get over it. People hurt our feelings. That is life.

Or what if a son didn’t like a painting on the wall in the hallway at school? I have the same questions as before and again, I just don’t believe we would encourage our kid to organize a protest over it. Instead, we’d say, “Don’t look at it.”

But for some reason as adults it seems much more reasonable to demand that nobody should ever offend us. Give me a break.

Please understand that I’m fully aware of the power of icons. The swastika was a symbol for good luck well into the early part of the last century until the Nazi party in Germany hijacked it. Even the Boy Scouts of America had the swastika on some of their tokens up into the 1930s. Regardless, today the swastika only means one thing: neo-Nazism and racial hate.

I also understand that icons like flags and statues can be painful reminders to some about our history. But there is a big difference between a long-standing statue of the icons of our American history and a swastika.

True, with few exceptions, Southern political and military leaders during the years leading up to and including the Civil War were proponents of slavery. But that wasn’t the totality of their character and these men are a part of our history – both the good and the bad.

Those who call for the removal of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington because Jefferson was a slave owner, see him and many other founding fathers in a one-dimensional manner – their only place in life was slave-owner.

This denies the incredible impact these men had on the shaping of a country and Constitution that allowed this very complaint to be addressed and corrected.

At some point we have to say, “Come on. If you don’t like the statue, don’t look at it.” There is nothing in the Constitution that says Americans should be free from ever being offended.

The “don’t ever offend me” crowd presents an argument that will eventually collapse. What if your “don’t offend me” comments offends me? Such rhetoric can only be defended by a double-standard. Don’t offend me, but I can offend you.

In regard to our history, what are we to do? Remove all signs of our history from our culture? Where would that get us? Should we remove every street sign that includes the name of Jefferson, Washington, and other historical figures who held any objectionable views? Should we change the names of any park, city, or school that perpetuates the memory of anyone who was less than perfect?

At some point, we have to admit that history is complex. Jefferson was a slave owner – no doubt. But he was also an inventor, a visionary leader, a brilliant scholar, and many other things. To reduce his life to a single objectionable description would be the equivalent of supposing any of us should be seen exclusively through the lens of one of our flaws. We are human.

So maybe there are two equally important responses to debates over what to do with reminders of the past. There is a point where an icon – a swastika, for example – is so offensive to the majority of viewers that it certainly shouldn’t be incorporated into public life.

On the other hand, as we tell our children, believing that you should never be offended is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is believing that the country should change in any way you demand simply because you are offended.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]