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 By this line of thinking, when reading historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, the line, “…all men are created equal…” would have to refer to men while excluding women.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?