Are You Offended?

We live in a world of political correctness.  It is a time when every opinion, each word written or spoken, and  all actions taken must be examined for its potential to offend.  Celebrities often have to issue public apologies for the wrong words spoken or taken out of context.  Sometimes, these public pleas for forgiveness are warranted.  Yet, so often I hear of this person or that one having to grovel to their critics over some trivial thing that has offended the masses.  Our society is fraught with potential land mines, and all too many seem to be more than willing to cry foul over things that have no relevance on their lives. 

The job of any writer is filled with potential to offend someone. For example, take the sentence: “When a candidate applies for a job, ___________ must provide proof of identity.”  When I was in grade school, it was correct to use “he” to fill in the blank.  In this type of statement, it was to be understood that “he” referred to any person, male or female.  My teachers all explained that it was a matter of simplicity, not a slight against females.  We students understood this and moved on to the next lesson.  Currently, it is expected that the blank be filled in with “they.”  I have a problem with this because “they” is not a singular pronoun.  You know, they, the many them.  Alternatively, a writer can use “he/she” to fill in the blank.  My problem with this third option is more of a personal pet peeve:  a lack of common sense.  I do not buy the argument that using “he” as a generic pronoun oppresses women.  By this line of thinking, when reading historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, the line, “…all men are created equal…” would have to refer to men while excluding women.  Now we all know that is not the case.  We understand that the meaning of “men” is to be taken in the sense of “mankind” not only the male gender of the species.  I am a woman, and I am not offended when I read the Declaration of Independence, nor when I see “he” used as a generic pronoun.  As I writer though, I need to be aware of this issue, not because it makes sense to me, but because so many people are offended. 

As many of you know, my daughter has a group of congenital heart defects (chd) and had two open heart surgeries by the time she was 18-months-old.  As a heart mom, I’m a member of several support groups on social media.  These groups are supposed to be a place for heart parents to ask for or offer advice about coping with their child’s condition.    So often though, I see other heart moms posting about how they are offended every time they are in public and a stranger comments on their child’s scar.  Likewise, these same heart moms are offended when people say that their child doesn’t look sick.  They say it is offensive that people, in general, are not aware of the medical problems their child faces in this life while at the same time they become offended if people ask questions. 

My daughter has a “zipper” scar, and it is visible with most tops she wears, but especially in the Florida summer heat.  I will not teach her to ashamed of that scar.  I want her to be proud of it because it is proof that she was stronger than the heart defects that tried to kill her.  When we are at the grocery store and the person in line behind us sees her, the first thing they say is how cute (beautiful, adorable, etc.) she is.  Sometimes a person will notice her scar and timidly ask what happened.  I take that opportunity to spread a little awareness of congenital heart defects.  I am not offended that they don’t know how common congenital heart defects are because I didn’t know before Riley was born.  I am not offended at their curiosity.  I am not offended when they exclaim that without seeing her scar you would never guess at what she has been through.  In fact, I am proud of those things.  She is not defined by her chd, nor by her scars.  I am offended when I see heart parents try to turn their child’s struggle into yet another reason to be offended all the time.

The Confederate Battle Flag has been in the news a lot of late.  I won’t go into that argument here because I feel that both sides of the debate are right in some ways and wrong in some ways.  I will say that both sides are offended by the other side’s arguments, and that is how it ties into my thoughts today.  I will also say that I am offended by the idea of taking a television show off the air because it had a car with the flag on it when that show in no way ever condoned slavery.  People are offended though, so the show must never see the light of day.  Since people are offended, businesses must remove the item in all forms from their shelves.  This is called censorship, and it is wrong and sets the stage with a slippery slope.  What happens when Native Americans decide to shout that they are offended by the American flag?  After all, it is a symbol of the oppression of their people.  I am offended at the idea of digging up the graves of a Confederate General and his wife to move them to a less prominent location.  For that matter, I am offended by the idea of digging up any person’s grave and moving them. 

I’m not sure when the concept of freedom of speech morphed from the idea that the government cannot silence the people into the idea that we the people have the right to not be offended.  In a nation with a population of more than 300 million, it is not possible for each individual to agree on anything, especially when talking about topics like religion, politics, and equality.  We need an open and honest dialogue on the issues facing our nation and the world at large.  The problems with our healthcare, judicial  and educational systems are more important that what is offensive this week.  The large homeless population, the unemployed and the under-employed, and the hungry; all these people represent the need for changes in the way our society functions.  So the next time you find yourself becoming offended by something, ask yourself, Is this truly important? 

Equality for All…

Monday morning I saw a video of a man asking people why we celebrate July 4th, and the answers he received were appalling!  I have to hope that the video was edited down to remove the many people who actually knew the answer was that we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and that it happened in 1776, not 1985 as one woman stated.  But then I look around and see so many examples of people not knowing or understanding the fundamental principles that our nation was built on, and I have to wonder if videos like this don’t show the reality of our society.

In the past few weeks and months, there has been so much vitriol and hate over the idea of marriage equality in the news.  The religious right claims that allowing gay marriage somehow infringes upon their Constitutional right to freedom of religion.  They base many of their arguments on the Bill of Rights, but only refer to the first amendment.  I wonder if these people have ever read the Constitution or the even The Bill of Rights.

I am guilty of not reviewing these documents myself since my American History class back in high school (a long time ago), so I took it upon myself to read the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights again.    What I found is pretty much what I remembered:

    • All men are created equal.  I won’t go into the linguistics of this statement, but honestly, we are all human, we all bleed the same color blood, and we are all entitled to equality.
    • We all have the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Nowhere does not say that we have the guaranteed right to be happy, only to pursue that what makes us happy.
    • Freedom of religion:  each of us is allowed to follow the religion of our choosing, without the government telling us we have to follow X, Y, or Z religion.  This does not mean that religion is to be absent from any part of our society, only that the government can’t make us all attend Sunday mass at the the local Catholic church, or to sing hallelujah at the southern Baptist churches located in the bible belt.
    • Freedom of speech:  we are able to say what we think without fear of censorship.  This does not mean that there are no repercussions for the things we say, only that the government does not have the authority of censorship.  Neither does this mean that people are free to say only the things you agree with.  If you are going to stand behind a freedom of speech argument, you have to be willing to tolerate your opponent’s stance just as strongly as you expect others to tolerate your stance.

I also found something that I had forgotten:  The 9th Amendment to the Constitution states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”  Now I’m no Constitutional scholar, but that says to me that we cannot use the the fact that one right is specifically listed in the Constitution to deny another right that is not listed.

I would like to say to all of those people out there who are claiming that same-sex marriage somehow infringes upon their rights:

    1. If you are opposed to same-sex marriage, don’t participate in a same-sex relationship.
    2. A gay couple’s ability to get married in no way impacts your marriage.  If you think it does then you need to examine your own failings, not cast blame on others.
    3. Your freedom of religion does not give you the right to discriminate against anyone regardless of their race, sexual relationship status, or anything else (see “all men are created equal” above)

It is my opinion that all of those Americans who are so against equality for all need to take another look at the documents they claim supports their views.  We are all created equal.  We all have the right to pursue our own happiness.

I would also like to suggest that we need to get rid of the terms “gay marriage” or “same-sex” marriage and just call it what it is; marriage.