A few thoughts on “sensitivity”

First, a note for my readers–a whiff of controversy is brewing in the pages of the Advocate this week. If my investigations bear fruit, a full story will appear later.

I noticed in this morning’s Beacon that the leader article was about the cross display in Albion.

For those of you who are not from a single county in the United States, I shall explain–the rest of you may skip to the next paragraph. Albion is a small town to the south of me. Sometimes it’s known as “the Albion Nation.” There are a lot of hippies in Albion. There are a lot of hippies everywhere here, but Albion is a bastion of hippie-dom. Although the yuppies are trying to buy up real estate there, most of them flee in terror because there are nudist colonies and lesbians and bears oh my! Albion is well known for being a very…interesting place. That said, I love Albion. I would totally live there except that I’m not nearly cool enough. The cross display has been a subject of animated local discussion. It was first installed in November along Highway 1, clear of traffic but visible from the road. CalTrans removed the signs because they were on state property, but allowed the organizers to reclaim the crosses from a storage yard on the south coast (of Mendocino County). The crosses are currently in a field next to the Albion Store. The crosses are intended to be a thought provoking piece–a memorial to the dead in the war in Iraq. It is a powerful peace. A forest of crosses spills across a meadow, and if you look up, you see the Pacific Ocean. It’s a sombering place.

However, a controversy has erupted over the crosses, and I happen to think it’s a silly controversy. Given that people often accuse me of being “overly sensitive” and “too pc,” it may come as a shock that I love the cross display. It hits me in a visceral point and gets me thinking. You see, some people say that the cross isn’t an all inclusive symbol, that’s offensive because of its Christian connotations, and that another object should be used in the display. Such as a peace sign. Do you have any conception of how difficult it would be to cut a thousand peace signs? And how much wood would be wasted? Crosses are excellent because of their symbolism, but they also happen to be an efficient and easy thing to duplicate, which is good when you are thinking in the thousands, people. And also because protest often loses momentum if it’s hard. Most people can get behind an afternoon of assembling crosses from recycled wood, because it’s simple and direct.

It’s true, the cross has been adopted as a Christian symbol. But it’s also been around for thousands of years. I do think of Christ and His suffering when I see a cross. I also think that the cross is used as a common symbol in graveyards. I also think that it’s a rapid visual reference. The cross is a symbol of sacrifice, but also a symbol of hope. Although I probably do think “Christian” when I see a cross, that’s not the only thing I think.

I’m rather sad sometimes at the lengths our society has gone to in order to protect everyone’s feelings. I thought the “war on Christmas” thing was silly, and I also think it’s silly to condemn a superb visual display because you don’t like the symbol. I know that for some people the cross does have negative associations, but it’s a very common symbol. You probably see hundreds of crosses every day without even realizing it. There seems to be a tendency among some minority groups to marginalize themselves. “Well, I’m a pagan, and I find the cross to be an offensive symbol.” Well enough. But by being a wet blanket constantly, you are isolating yourself from society and turning yourself into the other. And then you are dismayed when everyone views you as the other. I’m not even certain that the person who created the cross display is a Christian. I think that he probably felt the cultural connotations of the cross made it an ideal symbol for his intentions.

I would hope that we are all big boys and girls and can look beyond the surface of something to the intention, and be pleased by it. I do think we should have respect for each other and our own personal beliefs, to be certain. But I do not think we have a right to go about being offended all the time by kindly intended actions. Clearly everyone knows what the intention of the cross display is, and yet certain people have chosen to twist its meaning to their own ends, calling it a symbol of oppression and the few speaking for the many and all sorts of nonsense. It’s not practical to live in a constant state of heightened sensitivity about everything. I would not be offended if someone wished Shabat Shalom, although I am not Jewish. I am not offended when someone wishes me Merry Christmas, or says Kriste Eleison, or engages in some other kindly intentioned gesture of goodwill. There’s a big entitlement complex in many parts of this country–that within three seconds of meeting me, someone should know about all of my little details so that they can speak to me in a socially appropriate and sensitive way, and I think that’s patent foolishness. Get over yourselves, for gods sake. Go out and live a little. Pee on a cross if that’s what you need to do. But don’t ruin a good thing in a constant quest for attention (or even equality, in some cases).

As a woman, I feel that part of my responsibility is to achieve equality for the sexes, but I don’t need to be doing it 100% of the time. One of my former bosses used to call me “young lady,” which I suppose I could have taken as being an offensive and marginalizing thing, but I didn’t. Because I knew that I was a respected and valued employee, and that was simply what he called me, to distinguish me from the “young man” who also worked in my position. Had I been getting paid less than my coworker, had one of us been getting preferential treatment, then I would have spoken up, because that would have been the time. And I am confident that I would have been listened to, because I hadn’t had a knee jerk reaction to being called a “young lady.”

A sad fact of our society and one that I am reluctant to admit is that we will probably never achieve equality. And, also, that we all have biases. I have biases. You have biases. And they do affect how we interact with people and think about them. Sometimes I think that the most we can do is be aware of our biases, and to try and combat them where we can, and to try and make other people aware of their biases. If I get 10 people in my life time thinking about fat and the ways in which they interact with fat, even if they continue to have a fat bias, I’ll be happy. If I can get 10 people of either sex to think about the position of women in our society, I will be happy. We’re thinking a pyramid scheme of bias awareness, people. So go out and talk to 10 people about other religions, and each one of them will talk to 10 people, and so forth. After 5,000,000,000 referrals, you’ll get a free iPod!