When I posted this originally, I knew it to be true but after my summer, I wish I had remembered it better - Literate Ape
Breaking up a hallway brawl between two eighth grade boys in 1994. Flailing fists, awkward grappling, hair pulled, shirts torn brawl.
One kid gets sent to my classroom to cool off. The other, He Who Started It, is with me in the hallway.
"What was that all about?" I ask.
"He called my mamma a fucking whore!"
"Then why are you pissed? I mean, if I called you a fat ass (kid was skinny as a rail and it was the first thing I called up in the adrenaline of the moment) would you take it to heart?"
Needless to say, my line of inquiry did not work. He as looking for a fight, he was ready for any insult coming his way, and he would have gone off if the other kid had said "You like to play Yahtzee" in a disparaging way.
The new approach to assessing harm is that if I say I am harmed, then harm exists. If I mock you or your perspective and you claim it has harmed you, then it has been decided that you were harmed. Insult has become demonstrable assault. Humor is lost. Self importance is tantamount. Personal injury is the Golden Ticket. And, in this light, we are all assaulting each other constantly. In this light, we are all looking for a fight, ready for any insult coming our way.
I understand the argument that insults pile up over time and that, if you are in a marginalized class in America, it can become insurmountable to the point where a couple getting married in 60 different countries in culturally specific costume can seem like one of those back breaking straws. I understand the soul crushing need to dwell inexorably to the past to justify your pain as you navigate the pain of today. Due to the lack of melanin in my skin, my penis and the fact that my privilege is obvious, I can't understand from personal experience but my brain doesn't stop working because I'm not you. I simply can't accept the paradigm wherein offense is the same as harm, wherein hurt feelings are the same as a wound.
If a man walks up to me and calls me a fuckface, it might hurt my feelings but does not harm me in any way that I can't control.
If the same man A) hits me in the balls, B) steals money from me, C) uses a fundamentally racist system to prevent me from living, D) legislates to prevent me from voting, etc. he has harmed me in ways I can't control. If the same man fabricates lies online and threatens my employment? Yeah, that's actual, furreal harm.
To assume that people can't control their emotional reactions is to assume we're all no different from the kid in the hallway.
If mockery equals demonstrable harm, then Republicans are justified in claiming legitimate harm from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. Fundamentalist Christians have a leg to stand on when they argue for "Religious Freedom." A 14-year old kid calling another kid fat or queer becomes elevated to a crime.
And we all become just a country full of angry eighth grade boys.
This is NOT a "Get over it" argument. This is a "Get things in perspective" argument. Perspective is what eighth graders lack. Perspective is what adults are supposed to have. If I cry foul at every possible slight I feel eventually everyone stops listening to me so when I am actually harmed, I'm bound to be ignored.