Welcome to the era of imagined victimhood
Giving and taking offence have become as familiar and habitual as breathing in and out
Did you hear about the UK salon owner who was forced to remove a job listing last week because it contained discriminatory language? Alison Birch was surprised when she received a call from the job centre telling her she needed to reword her post seeking part-time hairdressers. "This is a busy, friendly, small salon, so only happy, friendly stylists need apply," read her ad. The offensive word? Happy.
Such a word would be discriminatory against unhappy people, the caller informed her. "Should we change the word in case somebody thinks that they can't apply for the job because they are not a happy person?" A stunned Alison chose to pull the ad out altogether, despite an apology by the job centre, issued after her post on Facebook about the incident earned them a fair bit of ridicule online.
The episode is bizarre enough to provide fodder for late night comedy shows - but it does also seem par for the course. We are, after all, living in the era of imagined victimhood. And it's a rollicking free-for-all. Don't say X, you'll offend Y. Even if it won't, let's not say it at all - because to err, on the side of anything but caution today, is inhumane.
In the current climate, where all the world is required to be trussed up in the same social straitjacket, giving and taking offence have become as familiar and habitual as breathing in and out. Why is that? Psychologists would say it has to do with our expectations. We expect people around us to behave in a certain way - and when their actions don't correspond with our personal ideas, we instinctively feel shortchanged and are quick to make our displeasure clear.
The problem with not managing these expectations is multipronged. For one, we make a mockery of the very systems meant to protect actual victims. Like the 69-year-old Dutchman who famously launched a legal battle two years ago to lower his age by 20 years so he could get a date on Tinder. Emile Ratelband moved to take action against his local authority, claiming he was a victim of age discrimination, since he "identifies" as a much younger man. Ageism, he contended, was wrecking his chances of finding love and he should, therefore, be allowed to decide his own age. (He soon discovered that the court wasn't born yesterday.)
Not being able to manage expectations also means we're distracting from real issues - perhaps even compounding them. Allowing ourselves to be nettled (read: offended) by minor irritants - a 4WD tailgating you, the coffee jar that's never returned to its place, a colleague's unnecessary observation - is not without consequence. Everything builds up to contribute to a prickly state of mind that is, in turn, bound to itself offend.
If we've any hope for navigating our way out of this highly divisive landscape of wounding someone at every turn, we must be more willing to absorb, to grow thicker skin, and to 'let it go'. The alternative will turn us into extremely unhappy people who may not even be eligible to find work at their friendly neighbourhood salon. -email@example.com
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