As a Ugandan-born Canadian educator and practicing Muslim, Irshan Manji is no stranger to offense, particularly because her take on Islam is one that has not been embraced by many that share in her religion. Her books, The Trouble with Islam Today and Liberty and Love have both been banned in a number of Muslim countries. But her newest book, titled Don’t Label Me moves away from religious dealings in favor of exploring possible solutions to America’s poisonous political climate. Her suggestion? Start teaching our kids not to take offense so readily.
I thought that Manji’s message was important, so I shared it on my Facebook page when I first came across it. Almost immediately I received a comment from someone that didn’t watch the video or read the caption. The person seemed to take offense at the idea that maybe we should ease off the throttle of our outrage machine, because those who earn our ire need to be told how wrong they are, and our kids need to know that’s the right thing to do.
Of course, Manji did address this in the video, but I’ll assume that some readers will also forgo the link in favor of taking offense, so I’ll transcribe her response to that concern here:
“Look, I’m not saying that we should clam up whenever we encounter intolerance or outright hate. Of course, we should stand up to it. The operative question is, how?”
In other words, outrage doesn’t have to be our programmed response to opinions or beliefs that fall somewhere outside our own scope. Manji argues that the only way we can effectively convince someone of our own position is to better understand theirs and that maybe… just maybe our hate-filled approach to political discourse does a piss-poor job of winning any converts. Here at SOFREP, where the comments sections are decidedly more civil than you’ll find in most places, these bad habits still permeate discussions about national politics all the time.
“If you don’t think like me, you’re the enemy“ has become the modus operandi for not one, but both parties. Republicans and Democrats both work hard to portray themselves as victims of their opposition, competing over who can claim the greatest grievance and who earned the right to take the most offense. Then, each party sees those claimed grievances as justification for their own bad behavior moving forward. What-about-isms and “they started it” have come to define our national discourse — so much so that I can all but guarantee you that someone in the comments section below this article here or on social media will be so outraged by this assertion that they’ll loudly declare that all of this started because “the Democrats hate Trump!”
Here’s one of a number of statements in this piece that’s sure to offend some: Republicans are every bit as prone to taking offense and throwing a fit as are their liberal counterparts. If you know a guy that calls people “snowflakes” on Facebook, you’ve probably already seen him throw a temper tantrum or two when engaged by an opposing viewpoint. Neither party has a monopoly on emotional intelligence, just like neither party has a monopoly on corruption or dishonesty. Both parties have good folks and total assholes in their ranks. Both parties are to blame for where we are today.
This may come as a surprise to some, but heated political debate wasn’t born under the Trump administration; Neither were impeachment proceedings, partisan agendas, presidents with skeletons in their closets, or a media ripe with misinformation. If you think partisan media coverage is a new thing in America, it might surprise you to know that objectivity wasn’t even a coveted facet of journalism until the somewhat recent past.
Our discourse has always been ugly; our media outlets have always been half full of crap; and Donald Trump was not the first president to be mired in controversy. I know some will say, “but it’s never been this bad before!” about either Trump’s policies or the efforts to oppose him. But this is a nation that’s been through a civil war, two world wars, a great depression, multiple presidential assassinations, and attempts, and once had one founding father kill another founding father in a dual over how an election turned out. Yeah, guys, it’s been this bad before.
What’s different today (aside from technology) is how we view the debate. Our discourse has grown more poisonous because we now take offense as a course of action in itself. Being offended, being angry, being louder, or framing yourself, your party, or your candidate as the victim doesn’t equate to being right. Somewhere along the way, we stopped caring about that. In a grievance-based culture, we can live only in the past — citing perceived slights as reason enough to hate one another, and dying on political hills like martyrs for causes we have lost sight of in favor of the satisfaction we feel fighting strangers on the internet.
If you ask me, it’s high time we started teaching our kids to stop being so easily offended. But we can’t teach that lesson until we embrace it ourselves. Here’s our chance to start: you know how pissed off you are at me for that thing I said somewhere in this piece? I’m cool with that and you can be too. We can disagree, debate, and even argue — and I’ll still respect you in the morning.
Because until we can do that, we’re not getting anywhere.
This article was originally published in November 2019. It has been edited for republication.
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