Too easily offended

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Shut up.

Offended? We would be, too. If there is a right that is ingrained in this society from our first cognizant moment, it is the freedom of speech, the freedom to speak our minds.

No - you shut up.

There - that's worse. There is a growing "right" in this country, and that is the right to not be offended by another person's right to speak their minds. While we do have the opportunity to make the freedom of speech a real possibility - libel, slander and pornography issues aside – there is no way to ensure the right of every American not to be offended. We are too varied, our tastes run too wide a range. Something out there is going to offend someone else, whether it is a plaque of the Ten Commandments on a courthouse wall or a Confederate flag flying high.

It is a difficult tightrope to cross - when does the issue become so offensive to what number of people before we can truly say it interferes with their pursuit of happiness and, ergo, violates their rights?

Perhaps it needs to come down to the will of the majority. If we have to offend one group, should we try to limit it to the fewest? But then we have the argument

– doesn't even that one person have rights?

The "squeaky wheel" syndrome has led to a great deal of controversy - and litigation - over the past 30 years. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, those raising their voices the loudest in protest get the attention, and perhaps the direction, they are seeking.

In some cases this is very good - the Civil Rights Movement is a vibrant, heroic example of that, but that was a very loud cry for attention to a very great wrong in our society.

In other cases, we have to wonder what is going on in the minds of the "squeakers."

If there is a universal sin, it is intolerance - the inability to allow other people to have different beliefs, values, cultures, even tastes in music. Intolerance lies behind the terrorist acts of Al Qaeda. Intolerance leads one pack of teens to torment another. Intolerance builds ghettos instead of neighborhoods.

We have become a selfish society - concerned with our rights, but not the rights of others. There is no perfect society in which every one is satisfied, everyone is happy, but practicing a little tolerance now and then would make the society we've got a little better..