Those of you who listen regularly to my radio program know I am big on tolerance. For example, I tell callers who are bemoaning a parent or other relative’s annoying behavior to play “Stepford” human being and just smile and be nice. If, however, that relative is evil, now that’s not to be tolerated. But being annoyed or likewise offended by stupid comments, quirky behavior, irritating demands, or odd habits is a waste of time and emotion. Everyone has his or her quirks. And when you live in a country like the United States of America – a salad of cultures and personalities with the freedom of self-expression – there’s always going to be something to be surprised or offended by.
Unfortunately, it seems that America is evolving into a”not offended zone.” If anyone feels their feathers ruffled, well, many seem to think the world should stop spinning on its axis out of respect for their momentary discomfort. This would be just silly and funny, if it were not a growing danger.
Let me give you recent examples of this situation. These examples range from the ridiculous and silly to terrifyingly evil.
First, the principal of Chesterfield Elementary School in Missouri sent a letter to all parents on August 13th which said “singing ‘Happy Birthday’ is not permitted due to the sensitivity of all student beliefs.”
What? You can’t possibly be sensitive to all student beliefs. You should expect students to be sensitive to the fact other people have beliefs. They should be taught not to make fun of other students’ beliefs, but they sure as heck should not be taught to give up their own beliefs simply because another student can’t or won’t share that belief.
I remember one rabbi telling me his small son was invited to a birthday party for a friend, but the birthday party was at a fast-food hamburger place, and this rabbi and his family were kosher. That meant the boy couldn’t eat ANYTHING at the birthday party. Did the rabbi condemn the party’s location? No. Did the rabbi tell his son he couldn’t go? No. He packed his son a kosher lunch and sent him off with a present for the birthday child. He was teaching his son two things: 1) keep to your own beliefs no matter where you are, and 2) allow others to do the same. Now that’s tolerance. Tolerance is not forsaking your own values because someone else is offended.
Fortunately, enough parents at Chesterfield Elementary School rose up and cried “foul,” and the principal backed off.
Next example: there’s a blog called “Love Affair with Gossip,” and it’s written by someone who calls herself “BuggyGirl.” Here’s what she wrote:
Last night, my family and I went to the Olive Garden for my birthday dinner. Anyhoo, it came time for them to bring the cake out and sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ The server informed us that the Olive Garden staff could no longer participate in the ritual of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ because some patrons had complained that singing by the staff was disturbing their meals.
How long does it take to sing “Happy Birthday?” Six, seven seconds? So, some grouchy people don’t like to hear six or seven seconds of cheer for someone else, and the cheer has to stop? Who is the Grinch who stole birthday? Also, let’s take a vote: will most people stop going to a restaurant because “Happy Birthday” is sung? Or because it is not?
Yes, I understand these are stupid calls, but they also lead to dangerous ones that unfortunately promise the tyranny of those who proclaim being offended.
Here’s where it has already gone: far worse, far more serious is the reaction of a Muslim cleric who is running for parliament in Afghanistan – the country we are supposedly trying to liberate from the Taliban and Al Qaeda; the country which owes its current levels of freedom to our troops (my son having been one of them); the country which, 10 years ago, did not allow girls to go to school; the country which stoned women for showing their faces. That country.
Mohammad Mukhtar, a cleric and candidate for the Afghan parliament in the September 18th election, in reaction to the news reports of the September 11th Koran burning set to take place at a Florida church said:
“It is the duty of Muslims to react. When their holy book Quran gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world, they will be killed.”
And we all know these people follow through.
So, here’s my question: how come all the attention in our news media goes to a guy who wants to burn a book, and no attention whatsoever goes to a candidate for the Afghan government who calls for all Americans – that’s you, me, and our children – to be killed?
I do not believe in burning books. I do believe I want to live in a country where if you burn a book, the response is not the death penalty for a third of a billion human beings.
I can understand Muslims being offended at having their holy book burned. I’m not Catholic, and I’m offended at art shows in San Francisco displaying a crucifix upside down in a jar of urine. My right as an American is not to attend and not to support such vulgarity with public funds. However, when “I’m offended” becomes the war cry for censorship and mass murder, then we have allowed people to manipulate and twist the sentiment of offense and tolerance into a tool for murderous tyranny.