“It’s too hard to entertain a country whose ears are so brittle.” –Dave Chappelle
The following column may bother people on both extremes. That is exactly the point.
In high school I once told my German teacher, Mr. Mutzeck, “I would have done my homework if I hadn’t left my book in my locker.”
He smiled and answered, “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts it would be Christmas every day.”
I can’t help but think what might have happened to him in 2021 for mentioning Christmas in a public school. But before you assume I am taking sides in the cancel culture wars, please read on.
In one of my kid’s favorite “Sesame Street” episodes Elmo got his wish for it to be Christmas every day. The residents of Sesame Street quickly got tired of Christmas and it became a burden for all of them.
In 2021, that episode would be seen as a conspiracy because it was celebrating a strictly Christian holiday. And yet others would see a Sesame Street conspiracy in an aggressive left-wing plot to make children hate Christmas. That is how ridiculous we can make everything.
So while it can’t be Christmas every day, there is one holiday ritual celebrated daily: the Festivus “Airing of Grievances.”
Much of social media has become a steady stream for the “Airing of Grievances,” a vomitous spew of negativity, conspiracies, revisionist history and fault-finding. It is a daily race to be the most aggrieved, offended or victimized by something someone said or did.
In politics, people used to say “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” In 2021, “if you ain’t complaining, you ain’t winning.”
Obviously, we must not make light of true intolerance in this country. But there is more than enough serious and dangerous intolerance without having to manufacture cancellations of people making honest mistakes because of misunderstandings.
So let’s go back to what Chappelle said about our hair-trigger senses.
It has been said that “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” In the same vein, being offended is a choice. And in 2021 it is a choice that so many are all too willing to make.
We are inundated with terms categorized as microaggressions. Microaggression is a word that by its very use of the word aggression is an aggressive assignment of ill intent. It makes no allowances for anyone who may simply be saying something they don’t know is wrong. The person who makes an honest mistake gets turned off by the overzealous pursuit of political correctness. A civil conversation that leaves both people educated is a far better way to create change than accusing someone of aggression.
And the standards are not a set of static norms. Acceptability standards are moving targets.
Most people no longer say that someone who broke ranks in a group “went off the reservation.” Instead, they say that someone went “rogue.” But how long before someone finds some long ago “rogue” reference that offends someone’s sensitivities?
And grievances don’t even have to be factually accurate. For four years we had a president who falsely asserted some imagined ban on saying “Merry Christmas.” It was an applause line designed to claim some non-existent religious persecution.
At the same time other extreme members of Congress pursued a reverse McCarthyism for the “woke.” Well-intentioned people are getting lost or even cancelled amid an ever-changing current of words and acceptable standards and norms.
Woe to anyone who can’t keep up, because they just gave more ammunition to those looking for grievances.
In the 1990s I interviewed for a coaching job, one I did not get because I was told the job was going to be “an affirmative action” hire. I understood, accepted that reality and interviewed for another job.
That was then…but now?
Maybe I’d be on Fox News airing my grievances. My own personal Festivus to share with all.
But I could also instead go on MSNBC to claim that the people interviewing me had assumed that I identified as a white man. The range of potential grievances are impressive. One simple moment can be twisted to meet one’s own political agenda.
And that is precisely what frustrates so many people in the middle who are sick of the back and forth of the daily airing of grievances.
Enough with the daily Festivus already. Give honest people the benefit of the doubt, stop wasting time looking to make yourself an offended party. Find real problems with solutions that will help people in need.
And until we wrest control from those peddling the daily grievances, we will continue to focus on that which divides us as the remaining common ground erodes beneath our feet.