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WHAT IS SENSITIVITY?



Should I put “trigger warnings” on this blog post? Would people be triggered by my mentioning insults, suffering, disturbing images, racism, or anything else? If you might be, consider yourself warned.


Since I have a friend named Karen, I am committed to “calling out” the derogatory use of this name to describe an angry, entitled, obnoxious woman. (Is there a corresponding name for men? If there is, I don’t know it.) When I come across this usage on social media, I respond with something like “Please don’t use this name this way, as it’s causing a lot of real suffering to actual people named Karen who, through no fault of their own, are becoming the target of attacks because of it. Many are actually changing their name to avoid trouble.” In return, I usually get a barrage of insults, calling ME a “Karen” myself, and worse. I’m accused of being “triggered” by the word. Why are these people so “triggered” by my call for sanity? Why do they have to throw it back in my face? I see a dangerous trend here.


In a recent exchange, people were commenting on a really gory and disturbing Halloween decoration a man had put out featuring people (dummies) dying in horrible ways. Someone said that “some Karen” would certainly complain about what was essentially entertainment. I replied as above, with predictable results. I guess it was my fault. I should have confined my comment to the photographs themselves, which will certainly give me nightmares tonight… how can anyone, first, deface their house this way – they have to live with it for days before Halloween – and, second, imagine that such horrific images are meant as “entertainment”? (Of course there was no “trigger warning” on the photographs themselves. They just appeared, and I can’t unsee them.) But I couldn’t let well enough alone; I also commented on the “Karen” comment. There was so much that disturbed me about this post that I wondered why it was even on my feed in the first place. After all, don’t they cater to my own desires using algorithms? Was it because this took place in Australia and I’m Australian? That makes me shudder.


Let’s contrast this with another encounter I had recently on social media – I commented on the popular new Netflix series “Squid Game”. My comment included the word “Koreans”, which is where this program originated. Someone replied saying that this was racism. Did I get all bent out of shape and call this person a “Karen”? No, I simply apologized and modified my comment, although I am pretty sure, with actual Koreans in my family, I know more about this particular national psyche than my replier did.


I didn’t know this person; however, my initial response, though her reply did hurt, was not to hit back, but to apologize and withdraw. I would imagine that this kind of response is rather rare on social media. Everyone seems more and less sensitive at the same time.


I consider myself a sensitive person – to the extent that I usually am very sorry afterwards when I am tempted to comment on a public post, although I know perfectly well that it’s the equivalent to walking through a minefield. “Triggers” are everywhere; everyone is so very sensitive to their own hangups and problems, and doesn’t care a fig for anyone else’s.


First of all, the harshness and violence all around, and it’s impossible to escape it, is quite disturbing to sensitive people like me. Right now I am sitting in Starbucks listening, against my will, to wailing, screaming, shouting people “performing music” (at least, I guess that is what they think they are doing) on the BGM tape. And recently I ventured into a movie theater for the first time in years, and was appalled by the loudness of the soundtrack and the fast-moving, disturbing images in the ads. How can people nowadays sit and listen to this barrage on the senses, or look at horrific images, which with CG effects are made even more horrible? I am reminded of Bart Simpson with his sister at a movie, when she hid her eyes at awful places. “If you don’t watch the violence, you’ll never get desensitized to it!” (A small caveat here: I am not dissing everything disturbing. I am a huge Stephen King fan and there are some horror movies I really like.) We seem to have a whole society full of desensitized people. Is it really OK to take your 5-year-old out for Halloween and be confronted with the sight of a man whose head has been squashed by a falling safe, whose blood and brains are running down the sidewalk? Or to know that there are people who watch people (yes, I know they are actors, but knowing that didn’t help when I watched terrible things on TV as a child, and it doesn’t help now) who have agreed to compete in games for money, though they will be shot for losing? Is it OK to be certain you will receive replies that essentially boil down to “F*** you (if you can’t take a joke)” when you comment?


Then we have the people who are “triggered” by a stray comment on social media. Is this sensitivity? Why is it all right to say anything you want, and it’s not all right to say in response to that, “Hey, wait a minute. This is not civil behavior.” Those of us who are actually sensitive must keep our mouths shut and endure those who think of sensitivity as a weapon that they can pull out and cut you down at any moment.


I was raised to say please and thank you, to apologize if I hurt or offended someone and to expect that these things be acknowledged in turn. I would never dream of deliberately insulting a perfect stranger. That’s the way civilized society functions. Keeping a safe distance, but also knowing that acknowledging that you are both human and as such deserving of some measure of civility, is important.


There’s no more distance. Perfect strangers yell at each other as if they were squabbling siblings. And there’s no more acknowledgment of common humanity. If you don’t think precisely as I do, you must be a monster, or an insect to be stepped on as soon as possible.


I guess I’m just old-fashioned, as well as old. I’m sure there were older people in the 60s who cheered the new culture of Vietnam war protestors and Flower Children. But I don’t cheer this latest social phenomenon. Time to pull the covers over my head.

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