Sunday, 29 July 2012

You obviously don't have a sense of humour

How many of you have heard that phrase before? How many of you have said it? I think that phrase exemplifies one of the problems in our society, a serious lack of empathy.

I started thinking about it last week when a certain comedian* fervently defended his rape "jokes" and his subsequent "joke" of asking members of his audience to gang rape an inadvertent heckler. I say inadvertent as she admits she hadn't gone to the show to disrupt it, something I think most hecklers set out to do.

I thought about it some more this week when someone* on a craft website made a t-shirt regarding the shootings at the movie theatre in Colorado. A shirt with a print of the murderer's* face on the front and "It's WAY too soon to wear this shirt" typed in bloody font.

I wouldn't have known about either except through social media. In the first case it was through friends on Facebook who were horrified by the so-called jokes. In the second it was through a forum I belong to and, in that case, the responses generally circled around freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech. I get that's a big thing, especially in the United States where it seems to be brought up as frequently as the right to bear arms. But whatever happened to tact and decency? Do the people who claim this as a right for anyone to say whatever they want, whenever they want, think this was what their ancestors had in mind? Hint, your ancestors were wanting you to be free from oppressive governments, not allowed to trash talk your neighbours and insult bereaved family members with impunity.

When my children were small I spent a lot of time teaching them tact and empathy. "Yes honey, I know the man we just passed was very fat. He knows that too and it hurt his feelings when you yelled it. You don't need to say everything you think, you can keep some things in your head."

To me, that was just part of being a human being. Think about what others are feeling. Be respectful. Don't say something if you know it's going to hurt someone else needlessly. Try to be kind. Something my parents and grandparents would simply sum up as "good manners".

There seems to be a growing number of people who either missed those lessons or flat out ignored them. They seem to think of tact as a form of weakness, a fear of sharing your thoughts. They see themselves as strong, blunt, or brutally honest. Sharing truths everyone else is too weak-willed to share. People who disagree are too stupid to see the truth. The people they hurt are dismissed as weak and too sensitive.

In one forum I go on, people who disagree and think some things simply shouldn't be said are regularly referred to as "drama llamas"; a name that was once saved for people who constantly lead and share overly dramatic lives. The sort of person who posts "OMG FML!!! Nothing good ever happens to me!" when all that happened was they ran out of milk after the store closed and they'll need to make eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Now, however, if you post that making a t-shirt about a recent mass murder is disgusting, you're dismissed as a "drama llama".

I see this as part of a bigger issue. A lack of empathy means dismissing whole groups of people as being different from you and not worthy of the same rights and benefits as you. Welfare "bums"... of course they should be tested for drugs and alcohol then turfed off assistance if they test positive. I don't want "my money" being used for this. Ignoring that alcohol isn't illegal. Ignoring that people who abuse drugs are in the minority. Ignoring that it will cost more money to test everyone on assistance than it will save so we'll lose money. Ignoring the question of where will these people go? Someone who's addicted to drugs and already unemployed isn't going to suddenly find a job once they're penniless and on the street. Ironically the same people who want this to happen are also frustrated and fed up with beggars on the streets. So they're advocating for more people to be on the streets while demanding that someone do something and get these people out of their sight. And anyone who disagrees with them is a leftist dreamer with "pie in the sky" ideals.

Or, in the States, the whole gay marriage issue. Herds of people stampeding to polls to vote that their State never allow same-sex marriages ever. Or, in the case of North Carolina, stripping the rights of people in common law marriages too just to ensure no same-sex marriages occur. Under the misguided idea that, just because they personally don't want same-sex marriage, no one else should be allowed to. Refusing the right for millions of people to marry the person they love because it's "icky" and they don't want to have to think about it.

And, in Canada, there's Omar Khadr, a 15 year old boy convicted of war crimes and sent to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. He's been there for a decade now, despite an initial agreement of an 8 year sentence with a chance to come back to Canada after one year. No matter what he's like now after a decade of imprisonment and torture, no matter what his family beliefs are regarding western society, he is a Canadian citizen. I can't see how ignoring our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good thing. If we ignore one young man because of his family beliefs, his religion, who he visited at 10 years old, or the colour of his skin... where do we stop? Personally, I think he should have been hustled back as a 15 year old child. We're Canadian and we should take care of our own.

Do I have any solutions? No. But one thing I refuse to do now is sit back and shut up in the face of intolerance and just plain meanness. You think I don't have a sense of humour? Fine. But you'll have to listen to me tell you that I think you're the one lacking in humour if you think gang rape and mass murder is funny. If you don't like it, don't share your so-called jokes with me. They're not funny.

* I'm not adding names because I refuse to give these people any more time in the spotlight.

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