The Choice to Participate in the Soup of Offensive Ideas Makes You Stronger

By Don Hall

At this point, most people have heard my tale of my early days as a homophobic dickface who, when confronted by a close friend who happened to be gay, worked through the fear and loathing to become a more decent human being (or at least a less monstrous, bigoted one).

I'm glad for the experience because it taught me a couple of things that have stuck over the years:
• Bigots can change if they want to.
• Lectures from strangers about tolerance are trumped by the disdain of someone you love.
• College is a place where being a stupid jackass who then learns to be a more educated jackass is the point.

As I read about the agenda to censor language on college campuses around the country, I feel pretty damn lucky I went to college before the emotional asthmatics took over. Unlike so many budding bigots and misogynists today, instead of being told how to speak, I was allowed to be a completely intolerant fuck until the consequences of my behavior actually affected me directly. Sure, while a good portion of my time was spent drinking, there was plenty of time spent throwing out good and bad ideas and arguing the merits of them in an environment designed to foment that kind of discussion. I mean, who the fuck has the time to debate about intersectionality among the segregated economic classes in India but college students and people paid to argue about this shit?

"...emotional asthmatics...?"

Prior to college and even further into the annals of my grade school education, the common practice was that the kids with asthma, if accompanied by a doctor's note, could skip any physical exertion in gym class. I recall a kid—maybe this was fourth grade—who had pretty severe asthma, whose mother was adamant that he sit out of the heavy-lifting in gym, and who was every bit as adamant that he not sit out. He refused to allow his genetic weakness exclude him from playing with the other reindeer.

Now, this kid wasn't Teddy Roosevelt but it was a sign of real moxie that he bucked the easy out and pushed himself in spite of his lung's sensitivity to the exertion of freaking dodge ball and climbing ropes. My guess is that he is a stronger person for making choices like this.

"Safe spaces" is code for "hermetically sealed bubbles." Those who can't physically handle the outside world live in these plastic bubbles (like John Travolta in that movie from the '80s... oops, '70s).  Those who can't seem to stomach ideas and language that makes them uncomfortable try to create these bubbles—what do you think white flight is all about? The suburbs in most American cities are safe spaces for white people uncomfortable with all that melanin and music.

Sure, maybe the world would be a better place if everyone had asthma but that's A) stupid, B) impossible and C) preventing people to make the choice to stand up against their discomfort and weakness and play dodgeball anyway.

Exposure to ideas and language that you find offensive is fucking good for you. And, in the setting of college, along with the parties and social stigmas associated with them, there is a place to explore, argue and refine your perspective. It's an opportunity to educate and be educated. I'm glad I went to college and doubly glad I went to college in the '80s when the outright banishment of language wasn't the norm and when I could be a complete bigoted fuckweasel and learn from the natural (rather than legislated) consequences of my actions. I'm a far better person for the experience.

That said, I'm all for similarly marginalized groups creating spaces for themselves to commiserate and bond. An entire campus isn't a safe space. It's a learning farm. It's a series of buildings where people from all walks of life congregate and offend each other. You want a safe space, go rent a house.

And a word to the wise—a quiet "You hurt my feelings by saying that," Is scientifically proven to be 98 percent more effective than all the screaming and over-talking you can muster up.