Friday, June 6, 2008

Post No. 16: Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

We are all aware of the numerous instances, during the past year, where prominent individuals were severely criticized for comments that some termed “offensive,” or “inappropriate.” (One of the most widely covered was the comment by Don Imus regarding the predominantly black female basketball team which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

Ironically, in that instance, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who typically argues that there are numerous ways to view situations, recommended one of the harshest forms of response, thus suggesting that there was only one “right thing to do.”)

Many commentators suggested various responses to deal with the offending speakers, essentially saying that we as a society need to make a statement and ensure that folks do not regularly engage in such speech.

The ladies in question were the essence of grace. They had, after all, just brought home a national basketball championship to an academic institution that invests precious little in sports championships of any sort. Their composure and compassion under attack shamed Shock Jock Imus into a rarely observed heart felt apology.

Virtually all of us would agree that there was virtually no explanation, or justification, for his statement that would have made sense to us.

Following the revelations about the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. John Hagee, the talkingheads had much to say about how the respective candidates should have responded.

However, no one suggested that their churches be “taken away.” It is my understanding that Wright is retired, and thus there is nothing to take away, and Hagee is far too integral to remove him from the church which he built.

However, following the mocking, by a Catholic priest, of candidate Clinton in Chicago recently, not only did the local Archbishop chastise the priest, but so did a representative of a group of Catholic women. She said, in essence, that the priest’s comments did not reflect the Catholic faith, did not reflect the Catholic Church, scandalized them, and that he should have his church taken away from him.

Ever since she reacted in that fashion, I thought of this issue in free speech, legalistic terms. Of course, my colleague, the Laughingman, brought me back to reality, and provided instant clarity to the whole situation.

I called him up and asked him how should we, as a society, deal with this type of situation, so that we ultimately do the right thing. His response, which follows, was instructive:

“The worst conceivable way to silence one with whom we disagree is to stop him from talking. By doing so, you create a martyr to his similarly warped followers, and take him off the radar screen of the rest of the public.

"Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof.

"Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society.”

Laughingman is a tad more of an activist than I; however, he is essentially correct. Let me show you how.

Yesterday, I heard a news report regarding some Minnesota high school kids who took a Confederate flag to school. The kids were banned from their graduation exercises because of their conduct. One of them, as he sat on the back of a pick up truck, said that he was about as far away from being a racist as one could get. However, they both said that they wanted to make a statement about independence, and the freedom of one to express oneself.

Appearing on CNN yesterday morning, I’m sure that they now have a following consisting of hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. It probably would have been better to simply let them attend their graduation ceremonies, assuming that no further conduct was involved which might have lead to violence or some other disruptive behavior.

I considered entitling this article, “Ignoring People – A Novel Thought,” and then I remembered that as Americans, we always have to make sure that we punish folks with whom we disagree. It, unfortunately, is built into who we are as a people. Perhaps once we learn to ignore those making statements which we consider offensive or inappropriate, they’ll flog themselves, and we as a public will find no need to punish them.

In the immortal words of the famous Forrest Gump; “Stupid is as stupid does.”

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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