I was served up an article today listing the “10 costumes you must never ever wear for Halloween” unless you want to risk being branded a privileged cultural appropriating racist. Having worn a few of those costumes as a kid, I can only say I’m incredibly thankful to have grown up before everyone started being offended by everything and all dissent can be silenced by simply branding the other person racist. The ideological lock step with which certain segments of the population seem to believe must be adhered to without question or deviation is chilling. Especially when you remember a time when that same group rallied regularly in support of radical free expression in the arts, in public forums, and on the airwaves. Then again, perhaps that really just meant freedom for those enunciating approved, doctrinaire ideas.
Here’s the neat thing about being a grown ass adult: I’m old enough to not have to ask anyone’s permission before wearing anything, especially not when the point of the day is to dress up in such a way as to come as you aren’t. I’m also old enough to remember when the ending of a popular children’s poem was “But names will never hurt me,” though that’s probably a topic for a different post. In any case, I heartily thank the gods I haven’t gotten a cease and desist letter from the punk rockers, or the new wave kids, or the grunge bands demanding that I give up my beloved Doc 1640s. Surely, based on how the idea of cultural appropriation is being applied in the early 21st century, I’m guilty of absconding with late 20th century English heritage, no?
Maybe you won’t hear it anywhere else this year, but you’ll hear it from me – if you want to dress as a samurai, bandit, cowboy, cop, biker, construction worker, sailor, Indian chief, or whatever else happens to tickle your happy place, go forth as you will and enjoy your Halloween festivities. My advice to you is to not let the fact that some small segment of the population wants to act as judge and jury of a self-appointed inquisitorial hurt feelings goon squad get in the way of your enjoying the day. They’ve clearly managed to suck the joy our of their own lives already and you’d be well served not to let them do the same to yours.
We’ve been wandering down the path of politically correct, overly sensitive molly coddling for most of my adult life. I was lucky I guess to catch the tail end of the last generation that was allowed to compete, win, lose, and sometimes feel badly about ourselves. Now we all get trophies just for showing up. We’re told that good enough is ok. And for God’s holy sake we must walk on every eggshell in order to avoid saying or doing something that someone, somewhere may find in any way offensive or objectionable.
So here’s my open invitation: If you ever find yourself in a conversation with me, just spit out whatever is on your mind. Don’t feel any need to mince your words or to use euphemisms to “soften the blow.” Be honest and forthright in your meaning – you know, the way our parents taught us. You’re not going to hurt my feelings because we’re grown adults and anywhere within my (admittedly limited) span of control you’re allowed – even encouraged – to have an opinion different than mine. On some level I might even find some of those opinions offensive. That’s ok too. Having your ideas challenged builds character. And believe it or not, having character and the courage of your convictions use to be considered a good thing.
Not now, though. What we want now is a world where we all think the same things, feel the same way, don’t rock the boat too hard, or heaven forbid, have an original idea that doesn’t march in lock step with whatever passes for the mainstream. Don’t offend anyone. Don’t hurt their feelings. Don’t dare express an opinion that isn’t approved, packaged, and sanitized for your goddamned protection.
There was a time we did great things in this country. It was a time when we were dared to dream heroic dreams… but it was also a time when we didn’t worry quite so much about bumps, bruises, and skinned knees – and when having a bad case of the feels wasn’t considered a mortal wound.
1. Sticks and stones. I might be part of the last generation that grew up learning that sticks and stones would break our bones, but names would never hurt us. We’re also perhaps the last generation that will get to use the work “thug” to refer to a violent criminal. It’s not a surprise. When we live in a world where everyone wants to get through life without their sensibilities or little feelings being hurt, there’s not much hope. Personally, I refuse to be afraid of or intimidated by mere words… not even the one’s Carlin couldn’t say on television. I can’t help but think we’d all be better off if we’d collectively grow a thicker skin and spend a little last time being “offended” by every little thing that doesn’t fit in nicely with our own worldview.
2. Reorganization. I’ve been with my employer now for a little more than 12 years. In that time I’ve lived through six major reorganizations. Those are just the ones that impacted me directly. I’ve probably seen at least twice or three times that number happen. Of course there’s nothing wrong with changing things up to make yourself more efficient and effective. That’s good business. It’s just that when you do it on average every other year there’s no way in hell you’re making those decisions based on consistently assembled data… and when the next guy finds something he doesn’t like, we’ll just go ahead and shuffle the chairs again and see how everything shakes out. I’d never claim to have the right answers, but I do know that throwing darts and hoping for the best is rarely a management best practice.
3. Accusations. If your default answer to a different viewpoint on why things got batshit crazy in Baltimore is “you’re a racist,” it may be time to realize that other viewpoints may be legitimate – even if you don’t happen to personally agree with it. If that’s the only argument you can bring to the table, we’re well past the point of having a reasonable discussion. When that’s your answer to an honest, probing question, it’s safe to consider our conversation at an end. You don’t have anything to tell me that I need to hear.
1. Moral outrage. When you give a television show to a bunch of self-identified conservative rednecks and then get bent out of shape when they say something conservative, I’m not sure you’ve got a lot of room for moral outrage. I have a hard time believing A&E didn’t know what they were getting when they hired the cast of Duck Dynasty. While I personally disagree with a lot of Phil’s philosophy, I fully support his decision to answer questions directly and honestly based on his beliefs. I guess maybe I’m just troubled by a world where a man’s thoughts and opinions need to be vetted through a staff of crack lawyers before he can say them out loud. I disagree with people almost every single day. Somehow I manage to do it in a civil manner and without getting my little feelings hurt when someone doesn’t subscribe to my belief system hook, line, and sinker. Life’s just more interesting when you’ve got people who challenge your assumptions about what’s good, bad, right, and wrong.
2. The First Amendment. All day I’ve been listening to people argue that A&E is violating the 1st Amendment by sidelining Phil Robertson in response to his quote in GQ Magazine. Here’s the hitch: The 1st Amendment was written to prevent the government from interfering with freedom of speech. That leaves private businesses largely free to hire, fire, suspend, fold, spindle, and mutilate their employees in any number of ways based on what they say and do both on the job and during non-duty hours. As long as the company acts in accordance with the law and any contracts in force, they’re basically able to do as they please. Now whether those decisions are good or bad from a moral or business perspective, I’m in no place to judge. In any case, timing it right sure can generate a hell of a lot of free publicity for cable’s highest rated non-scripted show. So just remember that while Uncle Sam might not jump up and stop you from putting your foot in your mouth, with your freedom of speech comes the consequences of that speech.
3. Being in charge. Being a supervisor was one of the biggest reasons I left my last job. Plenty of people have that skill set. Some of them even like it. I don’t on both counts. I’m ill suited to it if by no other reason than by temperament. Even when the dark cloud of supervision rears its ugly head even for a few short hours, I’m reminded intensely why I’ll spend the rest of my career struggling mightily to avoid it.