Thursday, August 20, 2009

When The Shoe Pinches

I don't talk about what I do for a living on this blog, mostly because I don't spend time talking about movies, my annoyance with Oprah and my contempt for District 9 while at work.

Well, not much, anyway.

Now and again (outside of my typical day-to-day gig) I get paid to teach a class or two at a local institution of higher education. My favorite of the classes is designed to teach soon-to-be-professionals how to carry out their work with a culturally diverse population. Put plainly, I teach college students about cultural difference, and how to adjust their work to effectively address those differences.

I'm very proud to say it's exactly the sort of college class political conservatives sometimes complain about as being "too PC."

Yes, I'm teaching your sons and daughters to think about and have some appreciation for those who see the world from a different perspective. Most importantly, I'm teaching them to have some flexibility in the relationships formed with those people.

The horrors!

It's hard to predict the personality of each class before the semester begins. Most students, however, are interested in learning the skills that will make them more effective in their careers. That interest can lead to wonderful and insightful discussion. Sometimes, though, the class is made up of those who see the world from only their personal perspective; those students generally don't believe the geeky guy standing in front of the chalkboard, telling them that other viewpoints exist.

Last year, during a discussion of the negative effects of media on culture, some students voiced their frustration with people they deemed "too sensitive" to the images portrayed in advertising, historical works of art, magazines and comics. One twosome, who started off the dialogue with:
"Maybe I'm just a Wayne County Redneck, but..." was particularly troubled that Muslims would be upset with cartoons of Muhammad published a few years ago in newspapers.

"It's just a picture," said one of the students. "People shouldn't be so thin-skinned. In the long run, a picture or a word means nothing."

Trying to get the two students to see the problem from the perspective of Muslims was difficult, and only served to invite more hostility and frustration. That hostility grew until the other guy said:

"That's what's great about America. We aren't so thin-skinned that pictures and words upset us."

"Really?" I asked.
"You would not be upset if your spiritual leader was shown in a context contrary to your religious teaching?"

The student assured me he would not. So, I walked to the computer and dialed up youtube, where I'd run across this goofiness while preparing for the lecture the day before.

During the final seconds of the video, both students got up and walked out of the class.

We in the United States have a pervasive habit of forgetting that there are those -- due to ethnicity, race, religion, wealth , sex or other reasons-- who view the world differently than do many middle class white folks.

Some of the town hall outbursts of late, particularly those where members throw out words like "nazi" all too easily, (especially while conversing with folks who happen to be Jewish, as my friend wrote about at Donutbuzz recently), remind me of the two students in my class: people very narrow and inflexible in their thinking, who believe that change should only occur when that change will benefit them. And they think nothing of name calling, yelling insults and hurling accusations in the faces of those who are different, or who think differently, than they.

Too many of us care only when the insults are aimed at us, or when change affects only those with whom we identify. We're only thick skinned, it seems, when our own shoe's not pinching. And there's nothing politically correct about that.


Quirky Nomad said...

:) I remember that story! I'd never seen the video though. Very funny!

Donutbuzz said...

Great post. I need to find some time to sit in on one of your classes--even if it means playing hooky from my work!

Stanton said...

Good post, and great video.

I agree that other cultures should always be resepected; except of course, where it concerns hot dogs.

Buzzardbilly said...

That is hilarious! Both the video and the "thick-skinned" students' reactions to it, that is.

Fight the good fight. I gave up.

All Click said...

This was an awesome post by the way. I read it a few days ago and forgot to mention that!

The Film Geek said...

Aww, you only say that 'cause you feel bad about disagreeing with me about District 9! :)