The other day my two youngest boys were playing in the backyard together. Things got ugly fast and my 11 year old ran in to tattle on his older brother.
“He said I have baby sacks on my face!”
I had just left, so I didn’t find out about the tattle until I returned home. But I was curious and had to ask my son later, “What exactly are baby sacks?”
“I don’t know, but it hurt my feelings.”
Sadly, this event feels a little too similar to our society today—a hypersensitivity to what people say and do, creating an environment of angry rhetoric. Too many people seem too eager to be offended instead of looking for common ground, looking for ways to be kind, to get along.
Even just the other morning as I was going over my Facebook feed I read a post by one of the kindest sweetest people I know. She posted: Why can't people understand that politely stating my beliefs does not mean I'm insulting them or telling them what to do?
And she’s right. Why can’t we politely listen to others state their beliefs, listening with respect without feeling insulted or feeling like the other person is demanding we believe or act as they are acting? We live in a world of incredible diversity with so much we can learn from one another, so much we can share. And yet much of what is happening today is a decreased tolerance for civil conversation and even an increase in fear for conversation. If I say this will someone misunderstand/misinterpret? Will someone attack what I say? Could I lose my friends/following/job/livelihood?
In response to my friend’s post one person responded: The ability to have a respectful debate is gone. Add to that the ease with which people are offended these days and it's a recipe for disaster.
Take the upcoming Presidential elections in the U.S. Don’t panic! I’m not going to express my personal opinion on candidates or who I’m voting for. I’m just going to share the concerns many school officials have regarding voting taking place in the schools because of the angry rhetoric that has taken place during the current campaign, as well as the increase in school shootings and the recent fire bombing of a Republican party office. In a Deseret New’s article on the topic it reads: “… state and local officials say voting has been removed or classes have been canceled on Election Day at schools in Illinois, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere.”
In order ensure the safety of students they have moved polling stations and cancelled school that day. Now I believe that’s the right choice. Children and teachers deserve to be and feel safe. But I’m saddened that such a choice is even necessary.
The question we should ask ourselves is, why do we want or expect everyone to agree with us? To mold and conform to our way of thinking and be just like us? It brought to my mind a tv episode I watched many years ago as a child. After searching the internet and with help from the writing community I finally found it—Buck Rogers “The Dorian Secret.” In this episode, the Dorians experienced a mutancy which caused all of the men to look alike and all of the women to look alike. Thousands committed suicide rather than face their mutancy. In order to protect their race, a custom started of wearing individualized masks. But the leader of this world challenged Buck to imagine living on a world where everyone looks the same . . . it was pure madness. While The Dorian Secret was a literal representation of sameness, I think too often we expect others to think and act the same and take offense when they don’t. It seems to me as though we are actively trying to create our own Dorian Secret world by demanding others conform to our way of thought and getting mad when they don’t, instead of recognizing it for what it is—pure madness.
I could continue to give example after example of situations where we are quick to give or take offense. But the question really becomes, how do we fix the problem? As I was sitting in an auditorium Tuesday night waiting for my 14 year old’s percussion concert to start, my 12 year old (the one who started everything with the baby sacks comment) provided the answer.
He turned to me and said, “My math teacher says it’s a get what we give world.”
“What do you think that means?” I asked.
“If we’re kind, people will be kind to us and if we’re not, they won’t.”
“Who is one of the kindest people you know?”
“Mindy,” he answered immediately.
Mindy is our neighbor down the street who is often bringing us homemade jam and rolls, zucchini bread and sometimes dinner. And she always seems to know when I need a text or a hand-written card to lift my spirits. When someone is kind, thoughtful, and generous, you just want to be kind, thoughtful and generous back. Now I’m not saying you have to go out and make a whole bunch of homemade stuff. Frankly, I’m terrible at baking.
But ask yourself, what do you want to give to the world in your words and your actions and what do you hope to get back? This is a question I ask myself as a writer, as a wife, as a mother, and as a human being. If I want my children to give me respect, for example, I have to be an example of respect—give them respect. I know that I’m going to make mistakes, say and do stupid things. I’m not perfect. And I have to hope that people will give me the benefit of the doubt and forgive me. So I try to do the same for others.
And that’s the hard part today . . . giving others the benefit of the doubt instead of choosing to be offended. Perhaps they have a different way of thinking than our own, a lack of knowledge, are coming from an experience of pain, a different culture, or a different upbringing. We all go through life looking on the world through different lenses of experience. Frankly I think it’s a miracle we can agree on anything. My husband and I don’t share the same tastes in music, or movies, and he hates BYU. He still maintains that the biggest sacrifice he ever made was having to live in Utah County while I attended BYU. But we have other things in common despite his refusal to stop in Provo for bathroom breaks and my refusal to wear anything with a Utes logo.
So rather than allow offense to divide us, let’s agree to disagree and find common ground. Let’s bridge the gap of misunderstanding and bring kindness and civility back, and eliminate the lashing out we’re seeing in public and especially on social media forums. Let’s give out more kindness, more respect to one another, give the benefit of the doubt and see what will come back to our society as a whole.