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Standard Deviations: Columnist gets ‘microaggressive’ about ‘trigger warnings’

By Mark Saal - | Sep 25, 2016

”WARNING! This column — like the majority of the writer’s previous attempts — may trigger intense feelings of anger, annoyance or apathy. It may even induce occasional bouts of intense nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms, you are encouraged to immediately turn to the newspaper’s sports section, where there is a relatively safe space for those who might be damaged by thoughts or ideas that they find personally distressing.”

I’d really hoped we’d gotten all of this out of our systems last year. I was wrong.

Trigger warnings. Microaggressions. Safe spaces. All buzz words on college campuses across the country in 2015, as students demanded increasing shelter from certain offensive ideas. And now, here we are a year later, still arguing about hurting one another’s feelings.

• RELATED: Don’t ask us for trigger warnings or safe spaces, the University of Chicago tells freshmen

Microaggressions? Right now, we’ve got unarmed black Americans being gunned down by police officers. We’ve got police officers being ambushed by angry citizens. And we’ve got demonstrations and riots that sadly play out along typical political and racial lines.

In other words, I’d say we’ve got our hands plenty full with macroaggressions. Once we get a handle on those, maybe we can talk about how the lesser, unthinking things we say are affecting those around us.

• RELATED: Is free speech being muzzled on university campuses?

One year ago this past week, Fox News contributor and columnist Kirsten Powers spoke at Weber State University, as part of the Constitution Day activities hosted by the university’s Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service.

Powers is the author of “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech,” and her entire presentation could be summarized by this quote: “Unfortunately, free speech is under attack right now on our nation’s campuses. Debate and dissent have been replaced by a reflexive groupthink that is antithetical to honesty and the creative pursuit of knowledge.”

• RELATED: Kirsten Powers defends free speech rights at Weber State event

Powers’ visit sparked a spirited debate between conservatives and liberals, who naturally blame each other for the problem. Indeed, conservatives have delighted in chiding what they called the fragile “special snowflakes” on the political left, whom they see as seeking preferential treatment from others.

And they have a point. To a point.

But I wouldn’t be too smug, conservatives. Because you’ve got your own special airborne ice crystals to deal with. As Exhibit A, I direct your attention to Christina Axson-Flynn, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Back in 2000, Axson-Flynn sued five theater department members at the University of Utah.

Why the litigation? She claims professors treated her unfairly when she asked not to have to drop F-bombs or take the Lord’s name in vain when performing scripted monologues in class.

Professors told the young student she’d have to get over her language squeamishness. Instead, she got a lawyer, and made the university pay — to the tune of $250,000 in legal fees and a promise to draft a policy for students whose religious beliefs clash with assignments.

And conservative Mormons aren’t the only ones. Back in the mid-1990s, Rachel Bauchman, a Jewish student at West High School in Salt Lake City, filed suit claiming the school’s choir director promoted his Mormon religious beliefs and practices by requiring her to sing Christian songs during commencement.

Should Mormon students have to swear in theater classes? Should Jewish students have to perform songs about Jesus? Should black students have to be exposed to historical literature that uses the n-word? Should LGBT students have to endure sociology lectures touching on the way in which some folks use “gay” as a pejorative?

So many fascinating questions, so few meaningful answers.

A county clerk refuses to issue you and your same-sex partner a marriage license? I join you in your outrage. But someone gives you a “dirty look” because you kissed your partner in public? Get over it, snowflake.

Similarly, a supervisor gets you fired because you gave money to an organization promoting “traditional families”? You’ve got a legitimate beef. But somebody calls you a homophobe because you just gave that same-sex couple the dirty look? Hey, if the shoe fits, snowflake.

Maybe we could all think about treating others the way we want to be treated, and stop being so sensitive.

So then, what’s the solution to this thin-skinned society we find ourselves in these days? Here’s my suggestion: Everyone should have to work as a newspaper columnist for at least a year. (Relax. Like teaching, it ain’t rocket science.)

I’ve been writing opinion columns since the 1980s, people. And in that time, I’ve been regularly subjected to all manner of “microaggressions.” I’ve been called every name in the book, accused of being without a discernible I.Q., threatened with bodily harm — even had things said about my dear, sainted mother. All because I share my personal beliefs with others.

And, for about the first year, those hurtful comments bothered me. But eventually, I realized one very important truth about the things others said: The sun came up the next morning. My family still loved me. My dog let me rub her belly. I didn’t lack for food or shelter.

Besides, I had plenty of other, more important things to get worked up about. Any questions?

Class dismissed, snowflakes.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.


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