Sticks and Stones: The Defense Against Offense

smelly pirate hooker

We hear all the time about folks who are offended by ‘this’ and take offense at ‘that’.  To this end, I feel it is my duty as a middle-aged American woman of Anglo-Saxon origin living in one of the most conservative states in the union to put a little bit of perspective to the issue of offense.

What offends one person doesn’t necessarily offend the masses.  Take, for example, words typically used to address someone for whom you have some affection—you know, words like, “Honey”, or even “Dear”.  I once worked with a woman who was offended when she was addressed as “Sweetheart” by a male colleague, and she did not hesitate to very publicly let him know that she was offended.  She said that it wasn’t “professional” for a man to address her like that. 

And for the record, she wasn’t just offended; she was highly offended.  Damn.

What struck me about that conversation was not that she was pissed off that he called her “Sweetheart” but that she called him out about it in front of a large number of other staff members.  That, to me, was the true faux pas.  At the time, his term of endearment may not have been among the best choice from his arsenal of words, but her reaction was even worse, and not at all proportional. 

But I can’t say that I was offended.

Since that time, I have noticed that too many people have jumped on the ‘offensive’ bandwagon—everyone from people in the public eye to those whose lives are more private.  It’s as if folks are looking for a way to be offended just so they can publicly declare their outrage at the blatant violation of their civil liberties by an insulting, provocative, mean-spirited, distasteful, demeaning, and disparaging word or deed. 

My, my, people certainly are prickly.

This begs the question:  Is whatever that is branded as being offensive truly that offensive to warrant a huge fuss being made over it?  Or is the behavior in question merely an instance of poor manners and bad taste? 

Better yet, could you just simply and quietly disagree?

To wit:  I was getting ready for work one morning when a commercial came on TV between the snippets of local news.  This was shortly after President Obama first took office, and it was getting close to Christmastime (we’ll get to that little nugget later, I promise).  An advertisement for a “Ch-ch-ch-chia” came on.  The item in question was, indeed, the traditional water-the-clay-like-image-and-watch-it-grow thing-y; however, it was neither animal nor object; it was a bust of our forty-fourth president. 

Water his head and watch it grow.

To say that I was shocked is an understatement.  To say that I found the entire concept of a Chia Obama snarkily hilarious would be a truth that I am not afraid to admit.  And here’s why:

It was audacious, it was bold, and it was in poor taste.  Never had I seen a “Ch-ch-ch-chia” of any other president, and I could only gather that the reason the good people at Joseph Enterprises, Inc. thought this might be a good idea was that Mr. Obama is an African-American whose hair might grow in the same manner as chia seeds on a terra cotta image of him.  Subsequently, the company produced other effigies of political figures, but Mr. Obama’s was the first. 

Kind of like making farting noises with your mouth right after you’ve just farted.

Some, though, took offense at the Chia Obama and dubbed it as a racist representation of our nation’s first president to host a kegger in the Rose Garden.  Bad taste?  Yes.  Offensive?  Depends upon your name—is it Barak Obama?  No?  Then not offensive.  Racist?  Not even close.

“But Kelly,” you’re saying, “you’re not Black.  How can you say that this isn’t offensive to African Americans?”

Because it’s a silly thing, that’s why.

Now, who is that person who is offended by the words “Merry Christmas”?  I haven’t met this person yet, but when I do, he or she is going to get an earful from me.  Please, would anyone whose day has ever been ruined by these words respond to me so that I can make things right with you? 

You know what I think?  I think that some people became so frightened of offending the rather small number of individuals who don’t celebrate the birth of Christ that they started this whole silly thing by not acknowledging the holidays.  When my former employer, in the name of “diversity”, suggested that we begin referring to that blessedly long and stress-free two week Christmas vacation as “Winter Break”, I knew it was time to throw in the towel.

Americans have taken this “offensive” pity party too far.  Why do people feel the need to place themselves in a suspect class so that they can feel empowered when someone says a word or makes a stupid move that they don’t like?  What about the manner in which that stupid move reflects upon the person who made it?  Isn’t that enough schadenfreude?

On a more serious note, the word ‘retarded’ has gotten a bad rap these days.  When used incorrectly, it’s a disparaging modifier used to describe a person with intellectual challenges.  Even worse, the word ‘retard’ is often used as a noun, sometimes even a proper noun, when referring to certain individuals. 

But when you look at the true meaning of the word, ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ is a word that means that growth has been slowed or stopped, so those who first used the term to describe people with intellectual challenges had the right idea—initially.  It’s just that the term has devolved into something more demeaning—well, actually, just plain mean.  So in this sense, it is correct to avoid using the word, unless you’re talking about pajamas.

Yes, I realize that there are many more words that slice into the hearts of men and women like Cutco knives and are best left alone, but can we all agree that when someone makes a bonehead move or says something completely stupid, the reflection upon the speaker or doer is enough to put the matter to rest?  Must we suffer through your feigned sense of outrage, your shock and hurt feelings, your “victim-ness”, and your collective suspect class angst? 

Get over it.

Misguided and destructive ideologies, on the other hand, do have the power to destroy lives and blight humanity.  When words are used insidiously to weigh down and brand certain sectors of society in a negative manner, then the responsible thing to do is to end such rhetoric by not giving it an audience at all, thus denying this leviathan of negativity a platform from which to destroy.  The message will soon reach the source of this ugliness that no one likes a hater.

But you can call me “Sweetheart”.  Just don’t call me late for dinner.

The Day the Sky Fell and Hell Froze Over

blizzard of 78

In case you haven’t heard, seen, or felt (or you’ve been in a coma), we—as in those of us living in most of the Midwest—had a little snowstorm on Sunday.  Then, to remind us of Who is really in charge, the temperature dropped like it was hot—except that it wasn’t.  It has been freakishly cold. 

What more can be said about this latest development in our weather that hasn’t already been said?  Well, nothing really.  Folks who are stuck at home (or people like me who are constantly online) have resorted to posting status updates on Facebook that read, “Went to CVS today!  Yea me!”  or “The roads are still bad, but I’m totally out of Pinot Grigio!  LOL!” or “Do you think CPS will find out that I beat my kids today?  I’m going craaaazzzzy!  When will this end?  Wink!” 

That last one wasn’t really on Facebook; I just made it up.

I’ve seen worse, though.  Some of us remember the big one—the blizzard of 1978.  I was living at home in northwestern Pennsylvania and was just about to turn 15 when the big one dropped about 30” of snow right smack dab on top of our house.  We were out of school for a whopping six weeks.  It was in those six weeks that my now brother-in-law began wooing and courting my sister and the two of them tied up the telephone line all day long, where I learned that I was rather proficient at Jeopardy! but no one was around to witness my question-providing acumen, and when I discovered that boxed Dream Whip, when mixed with congealed bacon fat, tastes worse than the chewed-up-and-spit-back-out cheddar cheese that Becky also tricked me into eating.  We were obviously without any adult supervision; thus, I suffered some of my worst days under Becky’s cruelty lo’ those many years ago.  My brother Jamie was away enjoying his freshman year at Westminster College, but really, he wouldn’t have been much help.  She bullied him, too.

I pray that no child has been subjected to such indignities during these past three days. 

The last time that it was this cold, though, was in January 1994.  I was a new mother with two not yet crawling baby girls, and I remember that Tim and the twins and I were hunkered down in the family room of our newly built house enjoying the warmth of a roaring fire in our new fireplace.  Once the fire was out, I made Tim clean out the fireplace so it would look pretty for the next fire.  Doesn’t everyone do that?  Since we were in a new neighborhood, there was a lot of new construction, and new construction equals a plethora of Dumpsters, one of which happened to be parked right across from our new house.  Tim, always a forward thinker, braved the frigid temperatures and deposited the contents of the fireplace in the Dumpster, threw in four or five shovelfuls of snow over it for good measure, and returned to our pretty, new house, proud of his manly and husband-like achievement. 

Soon we heard the wail of sirens. 

Perplexed, we curiously peeked out of the sidelights of our newly installed front door and found, to our initial shock, and then to our mind-numbing horror, what appeared to be the entire Lawrence Township fire department, complete with a ladder truck.  The firefighters were furiously fighting a roaring blaze in the aforementioned Dumpster.  This was the same Dumpster that had been the happy repository of the ashes of a newlywed couple’s first fire cozy in their new home. 

Fearing imminent arrest and eventual prosecution (Tim wouldn’t have fared well in prison), we dropped to the floor and made our way, commando-like, to the front window, where we took turns monitoring the situation by peaking over the window seat and out the frosty glass like two mongooses hunting for cobras.  At one point, I think Tim mentioned something about hiding in the attic if the authorities were to come a knockin’, but we were still newly married, and he hadn’t yet learned how easy it was to throw me under the bus.  Holding our breaths, we watched as the stalwart firefighters fought the good fight.  Soon the fire was out, and Tim has lived these past twenty years in abject fear that I would someday reveal his secret. 

That day has come. 

Oh, and Becky?  I was listening in on the extension the whole time you were making lovey-dovey on the phone with Randy.  So there.  I should have told Dad on you.