So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind,
Is all the sad world needs.
(“The World’s Need” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox)
That there, my friends, is what we call (with a sneer) a platitude. No, that’s not an animal related to Perry the Platypus. It’s a trite, sort of obvious, not particularly helpful bit of advice that people are wont to give when things get complicated. Platitudes are spouted so often that they become meaningless. But this platitude means something to me.
You see, it was proudly displayed (and, as far I know, still is) on the family room wall of the house next door to mine when I was growing up. The house belonged to a retired postmistress named Ruth Bryant and her daughter, Eva. Eva still lives there. Mrs. Bryant was just about exactly the age of two of my grandparents, born as the now-vanished 20th Century was only a year old. She remembered a time before there was ever such a thing as a World War, before electricity, before radio, before the Titanic sunk and forced the lords and ladies of Downton Abbey to go get jobs like normal people.
The saying was emblazoned in a needlepoint sampler that hung above Mrs. Bryant’s easy chair. When I spent mornings with her before getting on the bus for afternoon Kindergarten, I would read it over and over, sometimes out loud if I was feeling brave. Mrs. Bryant would assure me that that saying was true. And she lived that saying, as far as I could see. In all my five or so years I’d never met anyone kinder. 45 years later, I still haven’t.
Mrs. Bryant died just as a thing called “Political Correctness” was taking hold in her beloved America. I don’t think she would have thought very much of it. Nor do I. And I think my disapproval goes back to those words above.
When I was a teenager, I thought the meanest people alive were the fundamentalist Christians. (Remember, most of us in the US weren’t yet aware of groups like the Taliban or Al Qaeda. We’d heard of terrorists, of course, but they were distant, exotic creatures, like elephants or rhinos. Sixty Minutes assured us that the real threat to America was the political right wing, and I was a firm believer.) I was a Southern Baptist, true, but Jerry Falwell and his ilk just seemed like nasty characters to me. “Do unto others” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” were my takeaways from years of Sunday School. Above all, I’d learned that we were all sinners and fall short of the grace of God. God was willing to forgive us for that and offer us eternal life anyway. So it seemed to me that the least we could do was forgive each other when we screwed up, right? But groups like the Moral Majority just didn’t seem to get that.
Once political correctness caught hold, however, the nasty old church ladies and the pompous, overfed televangelists no longer held the monopoly on nastiness. Now those on the left who claimed that they wanted equality and justice for all seemed pretty nasty too. Just as some feminists decided that gender equality was a good excuse to become just as abrasive, aggressive and violent as they claimed all men were, so did some of those who claimed they wanted racial and gender barriers broken down seem to reject the nice-guy, Alan Alda approach of the 70s and become judgmental, intolerant prigs.
Indeed, a few years ago, I attended a diversity training at work. The point of the exercise was to make us all aware that there were ethnic, religious, financial, gender and sexuality differences in our workplace, and we needed to be sensitive to those and not cause anyone to feel excluded. Good goal. Undertaken, of course, as everything is these days, merely to avoid lawsuits, but still a noble goal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t training in compassion and forbearance, it was training in how to be politically correct. How to spend your life being afraid of your own shadow. How to live as if everyone in the world has more right to be in it than you do.
My favorite phrase uttered by the presenter was, “And you can’t apologize.” Once you’d done something to offend a co-worker, she told us, apology and forgiveness were not options. The HR department would decide what to do about you, and it would be a punishment, not any attempt to make you more enlightened, or smooth the wrinkles in your relationship with your co-worker.
I objected, and I said something that probably really pissed her off. I told her that, maybe it wasn’t appropriate to say, but I grew up being taught the philosophy of a nice guy who died on a cross so everyone could be forgiven for screwing up. Who was she, or my employer, or the Federal government, to tell me that no one could be forgiven?
This is, sadly, all too often the attitude I find with the PC crowd. There is no forgiveness. There is not even due process, for, once someone is accused of un-PC behavior, they are condemned. No proof is required. The accusation itself is enough. That person is branded a heathen and shunned.
Case in point: the current unpleasantness revolving around Chris Sims, blogger and recently hired writer for a new series from Marvel Comics called X-Men 92. I don’t know Mr. Sims. I’ve read his column on occasion and enjoyed it. When I heard he’d scored a writing gig at Marvel, I was happy; because he and I seem to enjoy the same sorts of stories. I was, therefore, looking forward to his take on X-Men, a title I haven’t really enjoyed very much recently.
But, apparently, after Mr. Sims was engaged to write this title, another comics writer took to Twitter and expressed displeasure over his hiring, accusing Sims of having severely harassed her more than five years ago. Sims admitted to said harassment and apologized. He voluntarily stepped down from his (paying) gig at Comics Alliance so as not to taint their brand. He made a strong statement that his behavior of the past was wrong, and begged others not to defend or emulate him.
Okay. Guy did wrong. Guy saw what he did was wrong. Guy apologized and is making efforts to prevent others from doing the same wrong. To my wuss-ish, 1970s, Alan-Alda-Nice-Guy mind, that’s the desired outcome when someone does wrong. They get educated and they make amends. That’s reform. That’s forgiveness. That’s grace. Back during the time that we 1970s-nice-guys were befuddled by the Reagan Revolution, we used to revile the more conservative attitude that said that reform wasn’t the goal for wrongdoers, only punishment mattered.
But now it seems that, in the name of equality, fairness, freedom and all those other wonderful, squishy-happy things we 1970s nice-guys once stood for, a lot of people are seeking punishment for Chris Sims. They want him not to have a writing career. They want zero-tolerance (read: no due process) policies for harassment set at comic companies.
They want blood. They want revenge. They want an example made.
I’ve dealt with enough of these kinds of people personally to know that most of them (I said most) don’t really care about fairness, justice or compassion. They don’t want to make a better world. They want this world. Indeed, they want a world much worse than this one. They look for that evil world actively, and they find it wherever they turn their gaze. It’s a world that offends them, outrages them. They want to be angry. They want evil to exist, so they can stand up against it and show how good they are. Not how compassionate. Not how nice. How moral. How correct.
How like Jerry Falwell and all his ilk.
I don’t know exactly what Mr. Sims said or did years ago, but he admits it was wrong. His victim has not asked for any compensation. Why does the fan community feel it’s appropriate, then, to demand that his career be sacrificed, or that he be punished in some way? Why can’t they forgive, and support his efforts to make things better? Or at least stay the hell out of a fight that IS NOT THEIRS?
Answer: They don’t want things to be better. They want things to be controversial. They want dragons to fight, so they can look like big, brave knights.
You know what, kids? Real brave knights don’t want to fight. They don’t want to slay dragons. They want to sit by the river, whispering words of love to their maidens fair (or their lads fair, to be, um, fair… And let’s also point out that “fair” refers to having an unsullied soul, not to the color of anyone’s skin.) People who are real champions of justice don’t want to do battle. They’re just willing to do it if they have to. And they don’t bother battling someone who’s already surrendered.
So, you want to be a brave knight? Spend some time being nice to your loved ones, and making sure that those who depend on you are cared for. Don’t waste your time checking the mouths of everyone you meet to see if he has dragon’s teeth. Dragons will find you.
And if you can train your dragon, instead of slaying him, well that’s a good outcome too.
Postscript: I said it last week, I’ll say it again. Being an asshole in what you think is the cause of justice can do a lot of damage. There are a lot of very good young people out there looking for role models. They don’t want to be like Jerry Falwell. But then they look at you, standing up for all that Jerry Falwell opposed, and they see that you’re just as big an asshole as he was. So what do they conclude? How should they act? Who should they be? What’s right? What’s wrong?
You’re not giving them any answers, are you?
Maybe the answer is something like this….
So many gods, so many creeds
So many paths that wind and wind…