I was teased as a kid.  Some days were better than others and some others weren’t so great, but the fact is that from the time I entered first grade through high school graduation, there was something in me which drew the jibes, catcalls and slanders from my fellow students.  Somehow I was different, though exactly how I had no idea back then.  This whole business was made worse by the fact that for a great deal of that time, I was hyper-sensitive to that kind of abuse and could not control my reactions to it.  Quite naturally, this only encouraged my assailants to pursue my goat all the more energetically and frequently with similar levels of success.  I was well into my adult years before I had even begun to get a handle on how to face such attacks and recognize them for the incoherent noise that they were.

More recently we’ve seen the advent of political correctness, the attempts to soften speech in consideration for those who don’t deal well with unfiltered reality, with harsh facts or people.  We hear terms like “safe spaces” and pejoratives such as “special snowflakes” with regard to couching solutions for those who find the latent or blatant hostility around them too much to bear.

Obviously, I know something about that.  At the risk of recycling an old trope: been there, done that, the t-shirt’s a rag.  Back when I had to plow through the slings and arrows proffered by my fellows, the PC concept was as non-existent as any organized program with the goal of countering bullying behavior.  The kids who heckled me didn’t give a damn about how I felt about their harassment, and any downside to their behavior never reached my awareness.  In fact, when confronted with my situation, most of the school’s teachers and administrators acknowledged that they were largely powerless to take any meaningful action which would put an end to their behavior.  Worth mentioning too is the shrink I saw twice a week for too many years.  Though he did his level best, I can’t say that his input especially aided me or improved things much if at all.  In the final analysis, I just slogged through it.  It was neither easy nor painless, and yeah, there were plenty of scars, but I survived.

Reflecting on all of this, I realize that I have been a long time learning the following two lessons:

  • The world is not safe.
  • The world cannot be made safe for everyone.

Twenty-first century Planet Earth is probably more civilized than it has been at any time in its 4.5 billion years.  Violence – aggression of human against human – is at its lowest point in the history of Homo sapiens.  It is entirely likely that the human race will do even better as time goes on.  But … will we ever fully purge the desire or the tendency of one to act out on another, whether verbally or physically?  Honestly, I am dubious.

As for what this means for those who want the world to recognize and respect their sensitivities, all I have to say is this.  Some of the world may be willing to change for them, but all of it?  Never.  Won’t happen.  Political correctness and safe spaces are short term Band-Aids at best.  At some point or other, they can either learn to value themselves sufficiently and develop the strength necessary to defend against their opposition or resign themselves to living with the pain the noisemakers wish to inflict.

It's not a pretty solution ... but then it's not a safe world.

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Comment by Daniel W on March 7, 2017 at 11:19am

Loren, I thought for a while about replying. 

Your description could have been my early years.  Identical except for having a mental health professional.

What freed me was army life.  For the first time, the rules were the same for everyone.  In addition, there were clear rules of conduct.  Everyone had to depend on everyone.  Not that it was perfect,  but I developed confidence, self esteem, and a sense that sometimes, life can be fair and not everyone is mean.  Afterwards, back to college, and people were meaner, cheated, back stabbed, but I knew who I was and could generally handle it.

In graduate school, I joined a gay organization which had as its #1 goal to be a safe space on a campus that was unfriendly and bigoted, filled with prejudice and exclusion.  That safe space made a big difference.  Recently I connected with someone who had been closeted until coming to a meeting, and I was the self-appointed greeter who introduced myself with first and last name - something she had not experienced.  I had forgotten that.  Nexus is also a virtual community that is a safe space for atheists in a world where many if not most of us need this refuge.

I am not a fan of politically correct enforcement of speech.  We can all work on being more inclusive and just being nicer to people, but not on the extreme that it went to on campuses, sparking a backlash.  We need to hear opposing ideas, opposing points of views and experiences.

It was interesting reading your early experience.  I have been considering returning for a reunion.  I got out the old year book.  I looked at all of the graduation photos.  I realized, I didn't have a single friend.  Not one.  I was a bookish introvert who puttered in his garden and walked 2 miles to school and work as a library page, so I would not be bullied on the bus.  What would I try to prove by going?  That I made something of myself?  I did, but why do I need or want to prove that to those jerks?  Or connect with other outcasts to share something?  That might be good, but is really unlikely.

More later.  Thanks for your essay.

Comment by Loren Miller on March 6, 2017 at 3:13pm

Many thanks, BenGee...

Comment by BenGee on March 6, 2017 at 2:55pm

Full of win man. I'm quite a bit younger than you. Technically I'm a millennial, Yet I was bullied ruthlessly at home by a substance abusing former Marine, and at school by kids. I was always different, because we moved a lot I was always new, and my dad only ever taught me violence. So when confronted with bullies, they never touched me twice. After a few rather brutal altercations they would step back and sling harmful words at me because they realized if they kept their abuse to words I would not react. I lived in a bit of a coma, talking to no one, no desire to do anything, escaping into the world of books on my own time, and learning about the world from books rather than the religious teachers I had. I was confronted early with this reality, I've had my life threatened at knife point and gun point and I never signed up for that life, I was just always different, always something to be feared and hated. Most of the time when I got close enough to ask people why, they couldn't even figure out why, they didn't know why they treated me the way they did. The world is not safe. The world can not be safe. Frankly the world SHOULD not be safe.

This may seem counter intuitive to those who believe in social justice. I don't I think everyone is equal and should be and should have equal opportunity yes, and a society that promotes this is generally a good thing. However Social Justice takes it a step further, they want to enforce it. This denies the existence of the individual enslaving them to the group. When you challenge the ideas of a persons who holds up social justice they may say "you're invalidating my existence" of course an idea should not be an identity, challenging an idea does not invalidate anyone's existence. More importantly by forcing your subjective morality on others you literally are invalidating and violently and abusively destroying their right to exist. They MUST conform to YOUR subjective morality. As an anti authoritarian I simply can not exist in a world created by them. For the most part my standards and values line up very well with social justice, until the subject of freedom of thought, freedom of words, freedom of action, and freedom to be yourself come up. They must conform the world to their standards to MAKE the world safe. FOR THEM. and by extension they make the world unsafe for everyone else. I'm not talking about Nazi's and bigots, though even the civil rights groups will defend the right for KKK to protest, not because KKK are right or good but because we all have the freedom of speech in this country. Removing that right for ANY one segment of society removes it for all. So I'm talking about free thinkers, anti authoritarians, good people who don't deserve to have their existence invalidated, subjugated, forcibly and abusively destroyed just to make the world safe from some scumbags.

I do not have a single friend whom I agree with even most of the time. Yet my friends are very dear to me, and we have a strong close bond. Why? Because I respect them and they respect me. If they make a valid point I ALWAYS acknowledge that, even if we're disagreeing. And visa versa. In a world dominated by thought and word police those rights, that mutual respect, that freedom for me to be me, the freedom for me to be right or wrong on any given issue evaporates. More importantly their morality and rules are entirely subjective. Let me be clear, I don't like the people who use the term "special snowflake" much either, most of them are ass hats and trolls. Both sides using subjective standards an appeals to authority and emotions to win the debate. Neither side uses facts, more specifically both sides only use facts that are favorable to them, and ignore anything else. And both sides make a ton of shit up. There's a ton of factual evidence on LGTBI rights from the science community that justifies protecting them from abusive religious folk, yet the science is rarely used its all a bunch of appeal to emotions. Makes me sick. it undermines the work they try to achieve and cheapens the entire thing. They do this mostly because not all their positions are based in fact or reason, so if they adopted a position of fact and reason they may have to give up ground on some of the positions they have that are purely based on emotions.

When people choose to be good to one another because they want to,its the most beautiful thing in the human experience. When Social Justice, or Religion force people to behave in a particular way there's no beauty in any "good" act. Specifically because its no longer genuine. The world becomes fake, phony, and meaningless. Now I'm a nihilist, there's no intrinsic meaning, but they want to take away any meaning we could possibly give to our own existence too. 

I could say so much more on this topic, but I have to go now. Thanks for what you said, I think it was very well written.

Comment by Loren Miller on March 3, 2017 at 8:10am

Michael, just as I think rational atheism is the result of a deduction made by a given individual, so I also think that treating people equitably comes from a reasoned conclusion of a similar sort.  The problem is that not everyone comes to that conclusion, either because their ego gets in the way or as a reaction to abuse or bullying or whatever.  While I don't necessarily have a complete picture on this issue, it seems to me that the PC crowd think that the solutions they offer are IT, without any other addenda, and in thinking so, they do a disservice to those who are hyper-sensitive and are victimized by the more aggressive and less empathetic elements of our population.

Changing society is a valid part of the equation but it is not the whole thing.  Like it or not, those on the other side of the equals sign need to change, themselves, if they want to be able to operate effectively in society without having their vulnerabilities exploited.  Otherwise, you're talking about making a family of immobile gazelles safe in the middle of a cheetah hunt.

Comment by Michael Penn on March 3, 2017 at 7:19am

The world is not safe.
The world cannot be made safe for everyone.

Loren, I think your above 2 sentences hit it exactly. At what time will the world be safe for everyone? Never. It isn't going to happen. We have no superpower that is a "super enforcer" for one set of standards that will be shared thoughout the world. Along with political correctness this is an ideal set basically by politics. The world is unfair and media exploits this along with many political systems. It's just another way of controlling people.

Maybe someday this will all change but I'm not holding my breath.

Comment by Loren Miller on March 1, 2017 at 9:27pm

@Joan – It was a long and checkered journey for me, Joan, and I suspect even more torturous for you, but we both got there.  Considering that, I still think that something which would help immensely yet is neither taught nor encouraged in our society is the matter of understanding ourselves, getting to know who first person, singular is, what he or she wants and needs.  In this day and age, knowing yourself is easily as important as the "Three R's" and in fact, far more so, and it desperately needs to be addressed globally.

@Ruth – Cooperative culture it a great ideal and we may get there one day, but 100% of us?  Honestly, I'm STILL dubious.  I can't escape the feeling that there will always be those who have to be first in line, want their serving before everyone else, and expect preferential treatment, and they'll do that on the backs of those who don't know how to defend themselves.  Whether it's the reptile-brain thing or poor parenting or what, I have no idea, but eradicating traits like those from Homo sapiens will be one hell of a hill to climb.  Whether it is Sisyphean or not is yet to be determined.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on March 1, 2017 at 9:14pm

While the world is becoming more dangerous, it's important to distinguish sources of danger. One of the foundations of Dominator Culture is fear, presupposing the world always has to be dangerous and competitive and accepting that as the only reality. Then the male authoritarian family head or political leader justifies rule by punishment and violence, by fear, on the grounds that he is protecting you. Don't give up the possibility of cooperative culture, mutual respect, and making the world a better place. Don't give up empathic bonding outside of violent hierarchies - across diverse peoples and lifestyles. That future is the only one humanity will survive.

Comment by Joan Denoo on March 1, 2017 at 9:08pm

The world is not a safe place, and no one is going to ride in to solve problems and conficts for us. At some point, each one of us has to stand on our own, set limits as to what is permissable and not, what is tolerable and not. 

If we are wise, we have a "cloud of witnesses" who will stand with us when we have to take a stand. Some times we have to take a leadership role, even is there are no supporters to back us up.

I don't know what it was like being a boy and facing bullying, Loren. I can't imagine the torment that you experienced growing up. It must have been especially hard with the nature of your father and your relationship to him. Gratefully, you had the intelligence to learn that you mattered and how you felt mattered.  

Whether a little boy or little girl faced with violence when he or she is too young, ego defense mechanisms develop that act as scar tissure to protect one and make survival more likely. Ego defense mechanisms too often get in the way of mature, adult relationships. A lot of healing can take place as one grows into adulthood, but scar tissue remains.

Thankfully, you found a way to rebuild your self-esteem and your strength of character. You provide good solid support for others who face tough challenges and understand the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. I am truly sorry you experienced such violence as a young boy; I am truly grateful you grew into a man of integrity and srength . 

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