Why We’ve carried being offended too far
This morning my thoughts turned to common sense. Do people still use it, or has it gone out of fashion in the days of nonstop news, internet trolls, video snapshots and social media?
My first inkling that people had abandoned common sense occurred when I worked in retail. It was a hot summer in the South, and I had seen the ubiquitous warnings about leaving children unattended in parked cars. When a hysterical woman charged into our air-conditioned store claiming that a customer had deserted her child on this 90-degree-day, the security guard and I took notice.
“Someone left a child unattended in a car!” The woman screamed, urging us to action. Envisioning a toddler strapped in a car seat gasping for air, we hurried outside, where we found a sixteen-year-old with the car door open, drinking a supersize coke and tapping his size 12 foot to the beat of whatever music he was listening to through his earbuds.
The woman looked on smugly, proud that she had alerted us to this travesty. The security guard questioned the teenager, who shrugged. “I don’t want to come inside while Mom shops.”
My second indication that common sense was a thing of the past happened when a shopper summoned the police to arrest me. My crime? Telling her the candlesticks she wanted to buy were 50 cents each (this was a thrift store). She swore I was overcharging her, the candlesticks should have been 25 cents, so she called the police.
Suddenly, as I waited on a long line of customers, a policeman loomed over me. “You need to step outside, ma’am. There’s been a complaint.”
Maybe I lost my common sense at that point. I snapped, “I am not stepping outside because some wacko says I overcharged her for 50-cent candlesticks! Can’t you see I’m busy?”
He was a young guy, maybe new on the force, and he looked embarrassed. Luckily he didn’t arrest me. He went outside, talked to the woman again, then got in his patrol car and left.
I retired from the thrift store business a couple of years ago, but I thought about common sense again last week when I saw the brouhaha about Joe Biden.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m on board with the #MeToo movement. There are men who are or should be serving jail time. As an older woman who used to be a younger woman, I can relate to the complaints. I’ll never forget when my daughter’s pediatrician grabbed me and kissed me smack on the mouth right after examining my two-year-old.
Then there was the married man next door who wanted me to come over and pose nude while his wife worked. He was into some kind of photography, and much more, I guess. I was a teenager at the time.
There were a lot of other incidences, too many to count, and women had little legal recourse back then. I imagine the entire female population has endured these experiences.
My mother-in-law lived at a time when women wore hats, and she always carried a hatpin on the New York subway for the express purpose of jabbing men who sidled too close.
But the Joe Biden thing has me baffled. According to CNN reports, Lucy Flores, a Nevada politician and former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Nevada, felt “uneasy, gross and confused” at a campaign rally in 2014 when Former Vice President Joe Biden kissed her on the back of the head. Biden responded, saying he never believed he acted inappropriately. “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort,” Biden said in a statement.
I’ve watched the video over and over. The news media, naturally, has run with this thing. But if Lucy Flores felt threatened, why did she hug him back? She says they’re friends. If she felt threatened, why are they still friends? Maybe you could argue that because she was in the presence of a powerful man, she felt powerless. But she seemed enthusiastic and fine at the rally; at least, in the portion of the video that supposedly shows the incident.
I’m not a Biden supporter, although I’ve always liked the guy. He might be too old and too out of sync with current culture to make any headway in such a diverse field of candidates if he decides to run for President.
But after watching the video, I can’t help thinking we tend to take something legitimate, like sexual harassment, then swing the pendulum too far, losing credibility in the process. Sexual predators are a legitimate concern, but we risk making a mockery of the issue if we allow allegations to devolve into vague impressions of uneasiness that aren’t addressed at the time.
Just like the woman in the parking lot who alarmed us about the unattended 16-year-old, we run the risk of crying wolf too many times.
I would hate to see that happen. Women have made real headway on the issue of sexual assault and harassment. But we can lose credibility if every single thing becomes grounds for accusations.