April 2, 2019-
The other night, whilst visiting one of my best friends, I watched and listened to a speech by the conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro. Among the social phenomena he noted was the trend towards condemning “microaggression”. The term is used to describe remarks or gestures that trigger unpleasant feelings, discomfort or fear in people who are experiencing , or whose forebears have suffered, oppression.
I was treated, in junior high school, primarily, but also when in the Army, stateside, to a modest amount of bullying and verbal taunting, due to my autism. I sometimes pondered what society would be like, were it to be rendered illegal to ridicule or belittle another person. I came to the conclusion that, while it would a fine thing if people were to choose freely, as a society, to rise above such behaviours, to codify criticism as an offense, with criminal penalties, would only drive negativity underground.
To be sure, there are words and phrases that don’t belong in an enlightened society’s discourse. Racial, ethnic and gender-based slurs are things I banished from my own vocabulary, when I was about 17, to the extent I ever used them at all. Getting to know people on an individual basis, without pre-conceived notions, has been the only way I have achieved any personal growth, in my own right.
Last October, I found myself, mercifully only for a short time, in a veritable microaggression bootcamp, where every single word, behaviour or gesture that came from me was analyzed, castigated, sliced and diced, to the point I was leery of even taking a breath sideways. The individual doing this determined that I was beyond redemption, and I was dismissed from her presence. Mind you, I went through this at the behest of a friend, who was likewise deemed irredeemable.
None of us walks on water. No matter how loving one’s heart is, and how consistently one shows that love, there will always be someone, somewhere, to whom one is a bete-noire. It’s helped me, to be more present and aware of the deepest feelings and insecurities of others. It has also helped me to have grown a thick skin, over the past many years. “Microaggressions”, it seems to me, are best rooted out through calm, but firm, dialogue and education. Shrillness and stridency, as Mr. Shapiro pointed out, only drive unkempt behaviour and rhetoric underground, into the maw of the Dark Web or the shadier places in the legitimate Internet.