Sorry, Matt Walsh. You Don’t Get to Tell People How To Feel

Sorry, Matt Walsh. You don't get to tell people how to feel

I was a young teenager when I saw an episode of Touched by an Angel that addressed race. I remember the black male character saying, “You don’t know what it feels like to walk on a bus and see the women all hold their purses a little tighter.” And I remember thinking, Oh please. Racism is not a real problem anymore. Slavery had been long abolished, black people could vote and they even starred in TV shows like Family Matters which we watched every week. Obviously, racial equality had been achieved. The guy was just being sensitive.

That’s my first memory of my white privilege talking.

Years later I went to university to study literature. Let me tell you, in the humanities/art/social sciences, folks are kind of obsessed with talking about gender and race. It’s almost all they talk about anymore, and I got sick to death of it. It felt absurd, sitting around as a diverse student body and a diverse staff (in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation) to talk about discrimination and inequality. Does nobody notice how many women and people of colour there are here? I constantly thought. The head of the department is a woman! Obviously equality has been achieved here. We are so past this; can we talk about something else now? Like whether this book is actually any good?

I thought anyone in the university who still thought racism and sexism were still problems was being ridiculously oversensitive. (And what about this institution’s prejudice against Christianity? I wondered.)

A lot of the things Matt Walsh writes about these days remind me of the ways I used to think and feel.

* * *

I’m not sure when things started to change – when I started to become aware of the realities of race, gender, class, and sexual inequality.

It was definitely after I left the academy — having that stuff shoved down my throat every day by upper-middle-class elites hadn’t been very helpful.

I think it started when I began actually listening to the voices of people from marginalized groups. I started to listen to the stories of gay and black folks, of immigrants and people with disabilities. This was all still through the easy, sanitary media of books, blogs and magazines, but still: I heard stories I had never encountered before. About exclusion and violence and systematic oppression. People really did seem to be suffering from injustice due to their sex, skin colour, or physical appearance. In Canada and the U.S.! They weren’t just making it up. People of privilege really do systematically ignore, silence, insult, and marginalize minority groups, often without realizing it. And I realized that I’m one of those privileged people, who never has to worry about my race or sexuality working against me.

I also started thinking differently when I learned that the Church is still the most racially segregated institution in North America. So just because my all-white church can hold hands and sing kumbaya, it doesn’t mean we’ve achieved reconciliation with the rest the world.

Yes, we have made a lot of progress towards equality since government-sanctioned slavery was abolished and women got the right to vote. But just because we’re not allowed to own people doesn’t mean everything’s okay.

How do I know? Because members of marginalized groups are still saying they’re being discriminated against. And I’m going to go ahead and believe them.

* * *

Earlier this week, Matt Walsh published a post entitled, “Sorry, but it’s your fault if you’re offended all the time.” He begins, “I truly believe that we are the most whiney, sensitive, thin-skinned, easily offended society in the history of the world.” He makes fun of the concept of “microaggressions,” and makes a number of declarations like, “If it wasn’t intended to offend you, then you shouldn’t be offended,” and “Being offended is a choice you make. Nobody is responsible for that choice but you.”

Then Walsh lampoons ethnic minorities and transgender people who share experiences of microaggression on the internet.

As a straight white person like Walsh, I will never know or completely understand the experiences of the people he’s mocking. But instead of calling them names (overly-sensitive, thin-skinned, etc) I think it might be more helpful to actually listen to what they’re saying.

And here’s where I especially disagree with him: the speaker’s intent is NOT the only thing that matters. You are still responsible for hurting someone if you speak out of ignorance.

Because here’s the thing. I also know what it’s like to be alienated and insulted without the speaker’s intent. You probably do, too.

For example.

When we were having a hard time getting pregnant, people said a lot of things that hurt me. They didn’t mean to. They just didn’t know.

Once, in a group setting, a friend shared about another couple that was spending a lot of money on repeated fertility treatment. Another friend spoke up, remarking, “I don’t know why they don’t just adopt. It’s selfish to keep spending money on fertility treatments when there are so many babies that need families.”

That wasn’t meant to hurt me – we weren’t even talking about me, and I wasn’t even undergoing treatment – but I wept the entire way home that afternoon. It wounded me so deeply not only that she didn’t understand, but that she didn’t care to understand the unique pain that comes from infertility.

It would have been nice if she could have tried to hear their experience from their perspective.

* * *

I agree and understand that it is difficult to say anything without offending anyone. It can get really tiring, always rethinking what you’re going to say so as not to hurt anyone. Especially those of us in positions of privilege, who have never had to think about race and sexuality being a disadvantage to anyone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be polite and sensitive at all times. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to apologize when we’ve unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings and try to learn from the experience.

I know I have and will continue to hurt people with my words, in part because my experience is incredibly limited. But instead of ridiculing and belittling people when they point it out, I want to actually hear their perspective, apologize, and try to be more sensitive next time.

And yes, part of maturing involves getting a tougher skin at times and not letting people’s words get to you. We don’t need to throw a tantrum every time someone says something that hurts our feelings. I agree with Walsh here, and am always trying to grow in that respect.

But at our core, we’re all dreadfully tender. We all ache to be loved and accepted. We all bleed at the slightest scratch if it hits the right spot. We just all have different tender spots. Haven’t we all been brought to our knees in agony by a glance, a word, a sneer, a phone call that never came? But instead of mocking people for their tenderness, we ought to try to be more gentle. Because we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

It’s easy and fun to make fun of people for being “sensitive” about things we’ve never had to deal with. Mockery shuts down the conversation quickly, so we never have to take responsibility for our ignorance.

But I’d rather go out of my way not to hurt my fellow bleeders. I owe it to them. And the best way to learn how to do this, I believe, is to listen. I’m going to try to keep my ears open and my judgey mouth shut as much as possible.

And definitely not tell them how they ought to feel.

Image courtesy of sciencesque.

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Comments

  1. Those few times where Matt Walsh actually has something logical to say, his logic is obscured by his manner and his style, and no one hears his point. But in a world where manner and style have become the entertainment that everyone craves, Matt Walsh has played the game perfectly, evidenced by his huge readership. It’s pretty obvious that readership is now his goal. He’s the kid who once shouted loudly, but with passion and sincerity from a very small soapbox, who after developing a gang of also-angry cheerleaders has grown into a belligerent bully of the blogosphere playground.
    Terry recently posted..1 John, ISIS and the Gospel versus Terror | The GWBlogMy Profile

  2. Well put! I appreciate the humble, Christ-like thinking that comes through in this post. Avoiding wounding others is the grown-up thing to do. We should treat others as we *want* to be treated.
    Unfortunately, it’s easier to treat people like we’ve *been* treated in the past. I think a lot of people were taught that there are some feelings that are okay and some are not to be tolerated, and they grew up thinking the way to deal with a challenge is to get yourself to feel the “right” way, and help others by getting them to feeling the “right” way too. Citizens of this reality love to rally around ideas like Matt Walsh is promoting here. Your feelings are wrong, fix them and you fix the problem! Ironically, these people also get strikingly reactive when their soft spots are scratched. It’s an emotional handicap, if you can’t accept your own pain, you can’t tolerate it in others. Willingness to listen is a sign of maturity. It takes flexibility, because you need to be willing to adjust when you do hurt others, and like you said, you will. If you’re too rigid to do that, it’s easier to just point the finger and blame the person you’ve hurt for hurting.

  3. Exactly Terry. I think Matt Walsh has made a lot of good points in the past, and he still makes good points sometimes, but the way that he makes those points is becoming more and more abrasive. I feel like he’s turned into the Rush Limbaugh of Christianity, which makes me sad.

  4. There is a good exercise in humility. Go barefoot in a public place and feel what a discriminated minority feels. Dirty looks, people avoiding you, establishments banning you… A very enlightening experience.
    Victor Sudakov recently posted..Вместо “portaudit -C”My Profile

  5. Gonna have to disagree with you on this one (well, and on the Mindy show, but anyway.) Being sensitive is such an incredible waste of time and effort! Honestly, it holds us back as human beings if we have to cry for an hour, go to therapy for 10 years, etc. Why not politely educate the person who dismisses IVF treatment. Or, if you aren’t particularly in the mood to educate at the time, pointedly remind them that they should walk in mile in that person’s moccasins before judging them. Or cuss them out (aloud or in your mind.) Or glare at them. Whatever– but once the event is over, dust yourself off and move on with life. Save crying for real tragedies and sad movies.

  6. Matt says: “In the bizarre world of contemporary progressivism, only the Offended Person can tell you how you really feel, even if it isn’t how you feel.” This is a problem for him but he has no problem telling others how they should feel. :)

    We should be gentle and compassionate. We shouldn’t let the frustration or embarrassment of unintentionally saying the wrong thing make us belligerent or dismissive. But I feel that in many cases the offended has only to say something. I don’t want to offend and I feel that I am careful not to but if I do tell me. Tell me a better way to say something or tell me not to say or ask this or that at all; I’m listening with my ears (I’m not so good at other cues).

    That said, there is a point where things get ridiculous. My sister-in-law is ultra-sensitive. She can perceive a slight from a hundred yards. We are a thick-skinned clan and clumsy of tongue and she is from a very different background than us, so we accepted that we were at fault and proceeded to weigh every word and deed and we have made considerable progress but the cost is great. We walk on eggshells and family events are not very enjoyable or at all relaxed. What is much worse is that as we’ve gotten to know her better we have come to understand that it isn’t really us at all, it is everyone with her. Everyone offends her, everyone puts upon her. It must be exhausting to always have hurt or angry or negative feelings and I try to have compassion but I can’t help but feel she purposely dwells on the things that make her unhappy.

    Because of this, I agree with a few of Matt’s points but I think Hanlon’s Razor gives the better advice: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

    Regarding my sister-in-law, I try to practice saturation love with her and I like to think it’s helping but it’s hard to tell. It helps me at least and maybe that’s enough.
    http://www dot armenianbiblechurch dot org/food corner/saturation love.htm

    PS love your blog

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