Terry Paulson

Five Live Oak High School students’ First Amendment rights were challenged this year when they were asked to leave school because they donned American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo, an offense one official called “incendiary.” Other students could wear or wave the Mexican flag and any number of other potentially offensive messages, but wearing the American flag in America is just too “incendiary.” To their credit, the Morgan Hill Unified School District did not concur with the suspensions, but the “offended” still got their way.

Unfortunately, in America today, being offended works! It’s become an effective strategy for oppressing the freedom of those who disagree with the offended party. An Iowa Veterans Hospital is removing crosses and Christian symbols from its chapels because ”offended” atheist complainers have successfully intimidated hospital administrators with threats of a lawsuit.

On a more personal level, when a doctor informed a female patient that she was clinically obese and needed to lower her weight, she was offended. Instead of addressing her own weight issues, she attempted to get her doctor reprimanded.

Is this still America? “We the people” are supposed to be free to disagree, dislike you, and even offend you. Face the sad truth, in a free society, there will always be somebody out there who will be offended with anything, everything or at least something that you might say or do.

Don’t let name-calling get to you. Borrowing the words of the GEICO drill sergeant therapist, “Maybe we should chug on over to mambi pambi land and find some self confidence for you!” Grab some tissues instead of intimidating others into compromising our freedom of speech.

The French-born American historian, Jacques Barzun, said, “Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.” Political correctness is the enemy of freedom of speech. What may have began as a crusade for civility has soured into arguments over what is “offensive” and, even worse, censorship. To label someone a bigot or a racist for a comment that offends minimizes true racism. If being offended is enough to squander our freedom of speech, I’m offended by those who are offended.

Too many have forgotten that handy childhood saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” Words may hurt and even offend, but they need not have lasting impact. Even with the most hateful of comments, we’re dealing with strong statements, not physical blows.

Terry Paulson

Terry Paulson, PhD is a psychologist, award-winning professional speaker, author of The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results, and long-time columnist for the Ventura County Star.

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