Recently, it turned out that I was offensive. This was totally by accident. I am normally offensive only due to my tendency to eat my own hands and interrupt suddenly with excitement. This time I had an offensive opinion.
It may mean that I stepped over an arbitrary line. Which might be good. Or it may mean I'm just an ass. Which might be bad. I would like to officially apologize in the second case and stick my fingers in my ears and make raspberries in the first. Whichever applies, please accept that response.
Here's what I find offensive. I will tell you because this is my blog. I own this piece of real estate on the Interwebs, like a troll under a bridge. I have created it to be a nice place–a place for thought and sharing–and invited nice, intelligent people into it. They have been and are lovely. They all, to a one, have either said sweet things or bit their tongue about this offensiveness. Mostly the second. Elsewhere, people are not so sweet. Democracy does not demand either politeness or sweetness. Fair enough.
I digress. Here is what I find offensive: throwing pig's blood. Calling people Nazis. Saying faggot. These things are obviously offensive. Here are some less obviously offensive things: Trying to shut people up by assaulting their character and motives. Saying or implying "Love the sinner, hate the sin." What "Love the sinner, hate the sin" really means, even though it is markedly better than hating the sinner, is that this "sinner" are fundamentally flawed, but I will overlook it. I don't love this attitude when it hails from the faith community toward the gay community. I will tell you where I like it even less. When I hear it from those who preach freedom and equality toward those whose religious views are offensive to them. This seems to me like a rigged request for tolerance. Yours to me, not mine for you. "I grant that you have the right to your religion, but it is crazy and it is bad. Your religion, from top to bottom, end to end, is offensive to me. But, you have a right to it."
Tolerance, I have recently learned is a dirty word. Tolerance must not be tolerated. Nothing will do but total agreement and complete acquiescence.Tolerance, though, had a long and proud history before it met its death in the graveyard of words that can no longer be safely used. It means "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own." It means "freedom from bigotry." Nasty stuff, that tolerance.
Before I was a laundress of words, pounding out soap suds onto the internet, I was a hippie tree hugging eco-mama. In that capacity, I sat with a group of blue-collar backbone of America beer-drinking gentlemen and a bunch of environmental activists and was given the job to come up with a plan to restore a local creek, for people and for salmon, with community buy-in. My qualifications for this were all expressed in granola and dewy-eyed idealism. I had to learn to sing Kumbayah with the rednecks. Here is what I learned in trying: Listen for the commitment. When drunken community members phoned me to rant and rave about how hippies had stolen their summer dam and they couldn't swim in the creek anymore, I listened to what they were really saying: I love my community. I want it to be a beautiful place. I ignored the vitriole and I answered that commitment. In the end, we restored the creek.
Here is what I hear now:
I want to be honored for who I am and for society to grant that it is OK.
I don't want to be tolerated; I want my rights.
I do not want to see gay children or teenagers harmed by expectations they cannot or should not meet.
I want to protect myself from the possibility of nefarious motives.
I want to know what side I'm on and what side I'm against.
And here is what I here from the other side of the fray:
My beliefs are important and valuable to me.
I have a right to make a choice.
I want to be accepted at face value and not seen as out for something I am not.
My path is valid, too.
No one, on either side of a disagreement or misunderstanding, is likely to one day throw up their hands and denounce their long-held point of view. Even less likely is that an entire institution will do so. Day after day, week after week I read complaints about the increasing divisions of our society, the snarled political system, the deepened racism, classism, and class warfare. Nobody seems to think the answer is for them to listen.
It has always been the only answer. Listen. Listen not for what you can object to. Listen not for what your next point of leverage in the argument will be. Listen for the commitment. Listen deeper and you will hear it echoes your own. There's only one commitment: to love and to be loved.