I ran across your opinion piece in The Citizen entitled “Waiting to be offended.” After reading the piece I was struck by points that were made, agreeing with some sentiments and disagreeing with a host of others.
Yes, we do live in a society where seemingly everything offends somebody. And yes, each of us as individuals must build and shore up the skills needed to cope with being offended so that we can engage in constructive, courageous, informed, and empathetic dialogue with one another.
As a counselor myself, I recognize the importance of empathy, as it is what gives us the ability to step into the shoes of another and feel what they feel. It is what allows us to understand what others see and how it impacts them directly and indirectly.
In your piece you suggest that individuals “grow up,” choose not to listen, or simply ignore things that offend them.
If only our society were so simple. Being knowledgeable of the history of our country, we absolutely know that individuals who were “offended” by the atrocities that happened throughout our country’s history were by no means immature or in need of “growing up.”
In fact, because they were grown up, many recognized the “wrong” in what they found offensive and fought to make them right.
Personally, as a racial minority, I wish I could have simply ignored the daily negative messages that I received in our society and in our institutions (education) that were “offensive,” as they manifested in ways that oppressed then and still do today.
I won’t even mention what my parents had to listen to, knowing that choosing to “not hear” could literally cost them their lives growing up in the South. My parents could also not afford to ignore the things that offended them, because to do so would have led to their not raising my siblings and me with the level of courage, resilience, and tenacity needed to navigate a society that still does not see our full worth as human beings, and that non-racial minorities have never needed in our country.
You used the example of the khaki-wearing, tiki-torch-carrying neo-Nazis, KKK members, and white nationalists that marched and killed a person in Charlottesville, Va. I was quite taken aback at the suggestion to your daughter to simply not listen to them and to ignore them.
This very sentiment is why these groups still exist and are as emboldened as they were prior to the end of the Civil Rights Movement. In very recent history, choosing to not listen and to ignore not only led to one death in Virginia, but to nine being killed in a church in South Carolina, and 11 being killed in a synagogue in Pennsylvania. All of the killers belonging to groups that you suggest we not listen to and ignore.
As informed empathetic citizens of this country there are times when taking offense is absolutely necessary in hopes that it is a catalyst for direct actions to combat the evil that still lives in our country.
So instead of paternalistically suggesting that people “grow up,” or not listen and ignore, maybe we should listen more, get informed about why certain things are indeed offensive, “empathize,” and engage in “actions” that will cut off evil before it manifests itself in the most deadly of ways.
This is what I will suggest to my 4-year-old twin black boys whose very presence will offend some in this country, putting their lives in danger, fortunately something that your daughter will never experience.
The profession of counseling mandates that we do so ethically and our connectedness as human beings mandate that we do so morally.
Tylon Crook, Ph.D., NCC
Core Faculty, Walden University
Veteran, U.S. Air Force