The Sensitivity Police: How Not To Be A Jerk

I’m writing! Things are being written! Hope to have the first draft done this month!

So, I shall take a break from fiction and talk about reality in fiction again.

I want to bring up trauma again, and most specifically how it’s not any of our damn business how people handle it.

This was making the rounds again in my social media (incoming: rage alert)

Image result for 18 year old then vs now

Let me take a deep breath.

First of all, 18 year olds are still fighting in every war on Earth, and several that don’t require enlistment. Second of all, I’m pretty sure we all agreed that it was really shitty to send teenagers to die because not only did they die by hundreds of thousands, they came back and killed themselves, too. Vonnegut, I’m sorry, they didn’t get the message from Slaughterhouse Five. Over 20% of all combat related discharges are due to psychological conditions, and that number grows. Finally, words do hurt. We’ve spent generations getting people to stop beating their children, to use diplomacy rather than violence, and to value all human life. It is therefore patently ridiculous that having seen some amount of success on that front, we’re now condemning young people for continuing the work.

Everyone against teen suicide, the increased rate of suicide for young men, and the recent rise in hate crimes can stay here, encouraging people to use words and avoid wars. Everyone else, who hurt you? Please get therapy about it. That isn’t a diss, I honestly think you need to talk to someone and you should feel secure doing so.

The world is not safe. Violence is unavoidable. But it isn’t desirable, either. Teaching your daughters to walk with keys in her hand is a sad, grim skill we give out–it’s hardly something we hope she’ll have to use. And if she does, likely she does not feel angelic after–she felt threatened and she responded. Same with war. Learning to fight, or fire a gun can be a useful skill, but it does nothing to make you inherently more resilient or better. I’m not sure when we conflated a survival instinct with moral superiority, but please allow me to kindly invite you to fuck off with that nonsense.

This meme comes up a lot when discussing politically correct things like trigger warnings or content warnings. “Ugh. Your great, great grandfather was getting PTSD by the time he was your age, and you want a content warning for war, young lady?”

Yes, how dare a generation that grew up knowing their elders had not actually made it out of Normandy or Poland, or Vietnam, who watched the twin towers fall and their friends go to war only to come back different if they came back at all say that maybe they’ve had enough of war, and too many experiences clamoring in their head to find it glorious.

But more than just participating in some sort of illusory pissing contest, why are we mocking people? What does it cost to allow those who want it a reprieve? What do we lose?

Often, I think, the reaction against “political correctness” is a response to feeling ashamed. Jokes that people once laughed at aren’t funny any more. People who used to just grit their teeth or remark “at least we’re included” are now finding a voice to say that no, these things make people feel bad and are unnecessary when we have other, better words to use. This is difficult, because it feels like they think we’re bad people–that maybe we’re racist or sexist or otherwise bigoted!–when we just haven’t been able to keep up with evolving language. Saying something racist and hating people of different races can be different, but only if you then make sure you change your language. If you’re okay with people finding your words a bit racist, well, then I have news for you. They’re going to find you a bit racist.

Image result for man yells at cloud

I know, change is tough.

Do some people go too far in their sensitivity? Perhaps. But what they do has no bearing on me and my desire to be respectful. I am not going to suggest that all people who say “that isn’t funny” need to change when I can much more realistically just tell a new joke. And I’m definitely not going to dangle respect for human life like a blue ribbon at the end of a debate competition. No one needs my personal approval to be treated in a way that makes them feel valued. I would be an asshole if I required that.

Part of that means we don’t get to decide what deserves a content warning. The human brain is an amazing creation, and it often does not make entire sense. It is important to realize that people don’t often need content warnings to avoid simple offense–I don’t like potty humor, in general, but I don’t need to be warned that there are a lot of gas jokes in a book. Content or trigger warnings are about panic and revulsion responses. They are not things that have to bother everyone, and you are not a bad person if you don’t have anything that causes panic or physical revulsion–but it doesn’t make you a better person, either. You just have a different wiring in your brain. You should feel fortunate! But it is not an attainable trait for most people, even those who are strong, and they are not “bad” for knowing their personal limits. Think of it like alcohol. It is often a boast that someone can hold their liquor, but if someone is a recovering alcoholic, or on a medication, or doesn’t like the taste of something, do we think it is healthy to find them lacking moral fiber? Or is it more likely they’re just not part of the majority of social drinkers, and we therefore might sometimes need to plan activities or refreshments that don’t involve booze?

It is also true that sometimes content that many would find scary by itself isn’t the actual issue for people with panic disorders or responses. For example, someone who was in a car accident might not actually be upset reading about car accidents, but might get nervous reading about someone driving in heavy snow, because that’s the element their mind latched onto. This is the difference between content warnings (content warning: car crash) and trigger warnings (trigger warning, person Y, it has heavy snow while driving). Like I said, the brain doesn’t always make sense. The person with the response knows that. We don’t have to convince them, we just have to decide if we want to be a jerk about it.

I prefer warnings of sexual violence in books. It doesn’t mean I won’t read the book, or that I faint at the reality of the world. It just means that if I’m going to do something with a high chance of causing me to feel panic (actual panic–increased heart rate, adrenaline, a need to move/run away or fight something, tears, shaking etc) or a rage so intense and a sorrow so deep that I cannot absorb what I’m reading, I want to make sure I’m ready so that I can absorb what I’m reading (or watching or listening to) without maybe sending myself into a spiral. I’ve fended off people who’ve wanted to hurt me. I’ve held people who had just been hurt. I am not a weak person. I just don’t tend to do those things for fun, either.

So, before we tell someone to buck up or that we can “separate the artist from the art” in a way that comes across as a dig, maybe ask yourself “is this a hill I need to die on?” and then don’t. Live your own life and let them live theirs, like we’ve been teaching generations since the 1940s. We’ve had almost 80 years to take this to heart–if you have one, now’s a great time to make it obvious.


3 thoughts on “The Sensitivity Police: How Not To Be A Jerk

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