Of Porcupines and Ducks

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My mom used to call them “Prickly Days”.  Those days when one of us was just feeling defensive or particularly put-upon, when our response to everything was a snarl or a snap.  A conversation on one of those days might go as follows:

Mom:  Good Morning!

Me: What’s that supposed to mean?

Mom:  Just . . . good morning. 

Me:  You always loved (insert random sibling) more!  Stop picking on me!

Prickly.  Like an angry little porcupine.  Don’t touch. Don’t speak.  Don’t try to smooth things over.   Just walk away.  Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

Lately, it seems as though the entire world is having “Prickly Days” and they are using social media to express themselves.  I have to wonder if it doesn’t sometimes take an extreme effort to be so very offended by every tiny, seemingly innocuous comment made by some random celebrity, and then spout off about it online.

For example, look at the reaction to Justin Bieber’s recent comments in the guestbook at the Anne Frank House.  He wrote:  “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” 

Now, that was a really stupid thing to say.  It comes across as a bit of self-promoting fluff that trivializes everything that Anne Frank went through.     But is it bad enough to warrant the hate-filled ranting and raving, the angry demands for a public apology?

Let’s face it; he’s a kid who said a dumb thing.  If people can just calm down for a moment and stop being angry long enough to consider the intent behind his vapid scribble, can anyone really, possibly believe that he truly intended to be so disrespectful?  Or did he just have a stupid moment?

A less notorious–and far less stupid –example of this rush to be offended involves my current celebrity crush.  On February 7, Randolph Mantooth posted the following Tweet:

“I swear! There’s some ignorant, intolerant, crazy ass people in the world 2day & they all seem 2 B on Facebook & Twitter.”

Oh, come on, is anybody really surprised that I follow him on Twitter?

Personally, I think it’s a pretty funny Tweet.  I rather agree with it most days.  I clicked “favorite” and moved on after a good chuckle.

But a few weeks later, he had to address the issue in his blog on his site, Route51, because apparently people were offended by the comment.  It was interpreted as an insult against anyone without a high school education.

Just how hard do you have to squint to see that in his comment?  How much effort does it take to be offended by that?

In a post titled “What I Said” Mantooth defends himself by saying:

“If you read the tweet, you’ll know I never said anything about anyone’s education. . . . Look…. One of the smartest people in my life only made it through the 8th grade. …My father! With only a high school education, my mother successfully raised 4 kids as a waitress… by herself!”

Again, let’s look at the intent behind the words.  Does anyone really believe it was his intent to criticize the educational background of anyone, anywhere?  Or was it more likely the off-the-cuff comment of a man having a frustrating day?

The incident that prompted me to speak up about this outbreak of Let’s-Be-Offended-By-Everything-Syndrome is something that happened yesterday.  In response to the horrific events that took place in  Boston, actor/comedian Patton Oswalt posted some touching words of hope on his Facebook page.  I was never really a fan of his before, but I am now.

In six brief but eloquent paragraphs, Oswalt talks about the bombs and reminds us that the people committing these atrocities are “not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet” and goes on to point out that videos of the carnage show more people running toward the injured than away from the danger.

In the final paragraph, Oswalt says:

“So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’ “

Now, how in God’s name could anyone possibly find that offensive?  But looking at the comments people have made below his words of wisdom, is enough to shake one’s faith in humanity.

Some criticise him for using profanity.  Okay, so I probably wouldn’t have opened with the f-bomb; but Oswalt’s word choice has the desired effect of grabbing our attention.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I know I dropped the f-bomb, as well as a lot of other foul words, as I watched the events unfold on TV.  I can’t think of a better way to sum up what happened in Boston than with his words:  “Boston.  Fucking horrible.”

Worst of all are the idiots who blast him for being overly patriotic, for over-simplifying the situation, or for using the situation for political means.

He did none of those things.

He reached out to the rest of us to offer encouragement and reassurance that the world is, after all, not such a terrible place.    He did a good thing; his intent was to offer hope and comfort.  I think he succeeded, but even if others don’t agree, they should at least manage to not be offended.

When I was a kid and I would come home crying because someone had been picking on me yet again, my Aunt Marian would tell me to “toughen up” and “let if roll off, like water off a duck’s back”.  God, how I hated those phrases!  I wanted to feel the hurts and wallow in my anger;  I wanted to go right on being a prickly porcupine and take offense at every little thing.  I didn’t want to be a duck.

Then I grew up.

Folks, it’s time to put on the grown-up undies and stop being so easily offended by every little thing.  It’s fine to get angry.  Be angry that someone set off bombs at the Boston Marathon.  Be offended by acts of terrorism.  Get pissed off because we have to be afraid of another Oklahoma City or 9/11 or Boston.

But don’t waste your time being offended over the tiniest of issues.

Is it worth getting worked up over a thoughtless comment made by some bubblegum  teen idol?  Or because of the irritated tweet made by a man who has spent forty years using his fame to support  and promote EMS workers everywhere?  Is it even humanly possible to take offense at the touching words of hope offered up by a man who stopped being a comedian long enough to reach out to his fellow human beings?

I have one thing left to say.

Quack.

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