27 June 2008

Why can't we all just be sensitive?

Ran into an old friend of mine today. We go a ways back, we used to know each other in our university days. She's an interesting character. She's politically correct, for the most part, as well as a feminist, but not insane about either- by which I mean one can debate intelligently with her. I respect her opinions, though we disagree on a lot of things.

She works at a local university these days in various roles. Recently she was at a conference discussing pedagogical disclosure, when she asked a question about the limits of such disclosures, and how to stop oneself before going too far and risking offense. Guess what? Someone took offense at her asking the question about people being offended. Now she's in a minor bit of hot water.

At least she now gets a point of mine from a while back. The various harassment boards at the universities adopted a policy some time ago in order to keep classrooms free from the chill of racism, sexism, any other ism deemed unacceptable by the consensus of the day. They defined harassment solely on the basis of perception, that is, it is only up to the person who claims to be harassed to decide if they have been harassed. The harasser's intentions and even their actions are of no account.

You can see why they did this. If we were to take the harasser's intentions into account, any harasser could get away with anything by claiming they didn't mean it. Someone could go into a class chanting KKK slogans and get away with it by claiming it was only a joke. On the other hand, as I tried to point out to her years back, there are people who look for offense, are waiting for it, and want to find it. You could say to them "Good morning, class," and they will find a way to turn it into an insult.

So we have here another example of the culture of eternal victimhood. People are looking for ways to remain perpetually aggrieved. They seem to have a sense of entitlement that I find staggering: It is their right to expect no one to offend them, ever. They seem to expect others to change to suit them, their ideas, their sensitivities.

I say sensitivities because that is where all this has ended: my friend has to go to sensitivity training. I find this amusing because she didn't buy my concerns years ago when I mentioned this to her, and also because she is really quite politically correct. Whoever launched the complaint just went after one of their own, except now, she isn't. Not anymore. She has learned another truth I tried to explain to her that day, a truth her accusers and a million other waiting to be accusers do not know, and can't seem to understand as they try to beat others into being sensitive to their sensitivities. The truth is, you can't beat sensitivity into someone. But you can sure as heck beat it out of them.

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