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Chill out and be kind

Robert Alvarez | Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I have a confession: I’m a half white, half Mexican, heterosexual male, and I’m a beneficiary of unearned privileges. Because I’m a heterosexual dude, I get to be a member of the sex and sexual orientation that has dominated Western civilization for 3,000 years. Win.
Because I’m half Mexican, I have a Hispanic last name and get to benefit from affirmative action, but I’m half white, so I don’t look Mexican and don’t receive a lot of outright discrimination. Double win. While I’m at this, I’m also book-smart, really tall and have dashing good looks, all arbitrary things that arbitrarily benefit males. Triple win.
I am essentially a lightning rod for every issue of diversity and privilege possible. Because of these things and other factors, I usually find myself with conflicted feelings when I talk about diversity and privilege. My thoughts on these issues are by no means complete, but I have a message for everybody who discusses these two issues: chill out.
The way these issues of diversity and privilege usually get brought up follow this formula: 1) somebody – usually, but not always, someone in the majority – says something offensive, 2) somebody – usually, but not always, someone in the minority — takes offense and tells the offender he or she takes offense, and 3) the offender is offended that the offended takes offense. You can then rinse and repeat this cycle until the two groups completely alienate each other and the initial issue is no closer to being resolved than where they started.
Now, if we presume Step 1 happens, the first stage for rational intervention begins with the interventionists in Step 2. To you interventionists, I say: chill out. I’m not saying don’t be offended – there are some things that simply shouldn’t be said – but also keep in mind the boundaries of personal opinion and the leeway afforded by comic elements.
I might think the acronym “LOL” is the organic emergence of Orwellian Newspeak and is destroying creative thought and the English language, but I can’t stop its usage despite my disdain for it. I even recognize that the ironic “LOL,” like the ironic “#hashtag” Facebook so mercilessly ended, could be used for comic effect. So, when I see it used, although it irks me, I chill out. I address it when it’s pertinent, but I don’t fly into a frenzy whenever somebody violates my sacrosanct language ethics.
However, like I said, there are some times where an intervention is morally obligatory. For me, some of these lines revolve around issues of racism, homosexuality and sexism. To me, cases that flirt with these lines are detrimental to the type of community we try to build at Notre Dame.
Sometimes, I get really angered by some of the things I hear and see, but I still need to chill out. These are all sensitive issues, and offenders oftentimes don’t view themselves as offenders – in fact, they do not want to offend. Therefore, they must be approached with the dignity and respect of another human being. These “offenders” are our interlocutors, and no transforming dialogue can be reached without calm and respectful language.
Let’s assume though, for argument’s sake, the offended does respond angrily and with spite. The “offender,” who never had any intention of offending, is now all of a sudden accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and being a jerk. The “offender” probably has good reason to be offended at this point.
To you offended offenders, I say: chill out. I know you never intended to offend, but a lot of us do things we never intend to do – I, for example, never intended to live in the United States. I was just born here, but that doesn’t deny my responsibility to account for the implications of my lifestyle here now that I’m a semi-rational adult. The person you inadvertently offended was somehow hurt by something you inadvertently did; listen to him or her. Try to hear the complaint.
Far too often, I see people take offense at someone’s “tone,” and then the issue never gets addressed. Recognize the person’s dignity as a human being and hear him or her out.
Perhaps after fully intentional dialogue these two parties still find themselves at an impasse. Now, I’m going to suggest something the offending party might not like: defer to the offended. I know, I know, the offended are so inordinately obsessed with “political correctness” that they are sucking the fun out of everything. But allow me to take the term “political correctness” – a typically evasive term – and replace it with the word “kindness.” Ask what it is you’re fighting for; is it really worth the effort and the amount of offense this other person takes? I would guess it’s not. Besides, I’m sure you can find other ways to have fun.
Issues of diversity and privilege are incredibly important because they are exactly that: issues. They affect people, whether we like it or not, and the only way to overcome them is through dialogue and deliberate personal change. To do this, though, we must learn how to talk about these things. To that end, I say: chill out and be kind.

Robert Alvarez is a senior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. He is living in Zahm House. He welcomes all dialogue on the viewpoints he  expresses. He can be reached at ralvare4@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.