I suppose I am going to go to great lengths to bore you this week. I seem predestined to go over material I have already given you. You might criticise me for insulting your intelligence!
But I am moved to talk again about the cowardly tactic of taking offense and the demeaning practice of acting like a victim! It seems that in today’s politically correct world the best way of avoiding confronting divergent views is to take offense.
There seems to be a prevailing attitude among many of us that we should be shielded from all adversity whether real, or more worrying, imagined.
M Scott Peck began his great little book “The Road Less Travelled” in this way:
“Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Buddhism has come to a similar conclusion. This is embedded in The Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth states that:
“Life entails suffering.”
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.
Consequently we must expect adversity. But if suffering is inevitable there are two things we must learn:
1. Our greatest defence is in increasing our resilience, and
2. We should not increase the burden of our suffering by allowing our egos to concoct spurious psychological defence mechanisms.
Most of those who take affront when confronted with ideas and opinions that are contrary to their own are indulging in the latter error.
In my role as an executive coach I try to teach managers methodology to be able to determine in a corporate environment “who owns the problem”. Many managers are diverted from their proper roles by trying to solve problems that are not real or problems that really belong to someone else.
It is difficult for us to accept (again because of the clever defence mechanisms of the egoic mind) that we might actually be the source of the problem and not others. How many of us can accept that truly insightful statement by the author and diarist Anais Nin that “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
This implies that oftimes our suffering is augmented by our inappropriate sense of self and that our perceived suffering is not due to any external cause but due to the fact that it has successfully repelled unwanted challenges to the narrative that sustains our ego.
Let us look at some dramatic examples.
Just recently two NATO personnel allegedly incinerated some copies of the Koran in a landfill site near the Bagram airbase. It is reported that this was not an intentional act but simply occurred because NATO personnel were simply disposing of old documents and waste products and were unaware that copies of Islam’s holy book were among the rubbish.
Some Afghan labourers came across the site and rescued the mutilated Korans and used this as evidence the NATO personnel had been profaning their religion. The American president apologised for these inadvertent activities. NATO promised that within ten days every one of its soldiers in Afghanistan would receive training in how to handle the religious sensitivities of the Muslim population.
If you go back to the question of where the problem lies here, I think this is a disproportionate response. I would maintain that the problem lies with those with the exaggerated sensitivities (read fragile sense of ego and inappropriate worldviews) rather than those who inadvertently burnt the Korans. In the meantime, to assuage their delusion, militant Muslims have killed many NATO personnel seeking vengeance for this supposed affront. Again I ask, “Who has got the problem?”
Let me state clearly that I have no particular brook against Islam. I have read extensively about the world religions (which of course many religious believers haven’t) and I find it no better or worse than other mainstream religions. My criticism is not against the adherents of Islam but the behaviour of those who have been so easily provoked. They would assert that their actions demonstrate their faith. I would assert their actions demonstrate their insecurity.
I suppose the major arenas of victimhood and offence are religion, race, and sexuality.
It is easy to find confirming evidence from each of these arenas. But for brevity let me choose an example relating to the issue of race.
The West Australian Police Commissioner, Karl O’Callaghan released crime statistics that showed high levels of involvement by Aboriginal youth. He was subsequently accused by the head of the Aboriginal Legal Service of inciting racial hatred.
These are facts that are indisputable. Surely they should be allowed into the public arena.
I have done significant work in trying to improve the lot of indigenous Australians. I feel for them and am supportive of any reasonable intervention that might improve their lot. But I fail to see how resiling from the facts helps in any way at all.
There are many other examples I could give you where people choose to take offense rather than have their dysfunctional world views confronted. I don’t think it is helpful when we choose silly notions of political correctness over robust debate and disclosure of indisputable fact. As I suggested before, it is more appropriate to ask, “Who has got the problem?”