I’m no anthropologist, but I like to think that my degree in anthropology has instilled a certain level of cultural sensitivity and empathy that fuels my work. That’s why I was shocked to receive an email that painted me as anything but culturally sensitive.
By holding up my Jingle These Christmas Boxers, I was sexual harassing the entire audience.
By saying, “the worst thing isn’t that we live in a world where child labor exists, but in a world where a mother who loves her child just as much as your mom loves you and my mom loves me sends that child off to work for the day because they have to earn an income,” I’m offending any audience members who don’t have mothers or mothers who loves them.
I took the comments very seriously and arranged to chat with my critic. The call lasted 90 minutes. Socially and politically my critic and I agree on most everything. We’re both pretty liberal. (Although I try to make my message and stories go beyond politics and bridge ideologies. I’m in the give a shit business: I try to make people care about our local and global neighbors.) But we could never see eye-to-eye on the criticisms that were leveled at my work.
I considered the criticism, talked to people I trust about them, and even lost a night’s sleep over them. I took them really seriously. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like the critic was being overly sensitive. Hell, SpongeBob is more inappropriate than any joke I’ve ever told on a stage.
Anyhow, two weeks ago I was watching Bill Maher and he went on a rant about the faux outrage over Halloween costumes deemed inappropriate, and, in a weird way, he captured how I felt about the email I had lost sleep over:
“…banning a hobo costume doesn’t make the homeless feel better. It makes you feel better. This is the lazy liberalism in which scolding has become a substitute for actually doing something.”
(To be clear I think you should think twice before painting your face black for Halloween or dressing as Caitlyn Jenner. So please don’t level that criticism at me.)
Faux outrage is shouting on Facebook or Twitter. Real outrage moves us to action to address injustices, to change a system that needs changing, to live lives of justice not just critiquing how others are doing it wrong. Faux outrage is pointing a finger at someone else and saying, “You are doing it wrong,” really outrage is pointing a finger at yourself and saying, “What can I do?” It’s putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions for our beliefs.
I’m not saying that I’m doing all of the above, but I’m trying. I’m pointing the finger at myself. I’m acting. And the people who I look up to are those who act, not those who shout.
There is plenty of room to criticize my work, maybe one day I’ll share all the ways, but getting hung up on a pair of underwear is not a productive thing to do in a conversation about global slavery.
One other takeaway here, and perhaps more relevant to the criticism I received. It’s rare that I don’t get something out of a book I read, a movie I watch, or a talk I hear. Sure, I also rarely agree with something 100%, but I try to find the value in a thing. Look for the value, what you can learn. When our political correctness blinds us to a larger message, a more productive conversation, or a different perspective, it keeps us from growing and learning.
Don’t just scold. Act.
Don’t just shout. Listen.
Tell me how I’m wrong.