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The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

Pardon My Language

Michael Malek Guest Writer If an alien had witnessed the past few years, or even weeks, of our school assemblies, it would probably conclude that words are murderous weapons, capable of blowing up buildings and killing unsuspecting passersby’s. We’ve had gay rights activists, ethnic minority activists, social activists, and disabled activists all come and lecture us on how we should watch our speech. We’ve held numerous discussions, talks, and fishbowled to the tune of political correctness. Heck, we even crucified Mr. Choi to profess our zeal to the matter. And now, where are we?  Are we any closer to creating the utopian community the powers that be envisioned? Have we determined any boundaries, set any rules, made any progress on what we can and cannot say? No. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that everyone should strive to stand in another’s shoes, to avoid mindlessly insulting an ostracized person or group to extract a quick laugh from friends. But as soon as we begin to enforce laws to create an environment of pure amiability, things deteriorate pretty quickly. What, after all, is offensive? If my grandmother were mauled by a pack of rabid dogs, should the administration prevent PETA announcements at assembly so they don’t run the risk of offending me? The mere idea of offending someone is arbitrary. Humans invented words and take from them whatever meaning they wish. Depending on the context, the tone of voice of the speaker, and a host of other factors, any combination of words could possibly be offensive, meaning we better quickly outlaw communication altogether. Or reevaluate our goal. Instead of worrying about how drastically we want to shelter students from the real world (something that they must inevitably face), why not focus on strengthening them? Is that not the purpose of a school? To give its members the tools to succeed in real life? Let me clarify. When words invoke emotional distress in someone, the person who formulated them is partially at fault. However, the individual hurt is also at fault. Being insulted inherently implies that the person insulted believes the insult to be somewhat, if not completely, true. This could mean two things. The first is that the victim simply does not have the self-confidence or self-control to allow a baseless statement to slide. For example, if a person who happened to be homosexual heard someone say “That’s so gay”, and that individual were completely comfortable in his or her sexuality, then no offense should be taken. It would be akin to a lover of deep dish pizza overhear someone say “Chicago Pizaa Sucks, dude!” and not care whatsoever due to the incredible stupidity of such a claim. The second possibility is that the person who overheard the offensive statement probably should change, and pardon my saying it, but this type of criticism can be healthy and promote positive growth in its recipient. If someone were to receive a 900 on his or her SAT after not studying whatsoever and partying the night before, and subsequently overhead peers laughing about it, then the victim should rightfully take offense and work harder, or submit him or herself to mediocrity, and the pain that comes with it? The bottom line is that there will never be a school (or any human institution, for that matter) where nobody is offended, and frankly, nobody should want there to be such a school. Humans have evolved to mock outsiders in order to promote group camaraderie, and virtually all of us have engaged in the primitive act. The fact remains that though we can do our best to try, we can never stray too far from what we are, lest we become something far more twisted. But at the end of the day, we’re at Latin, a fairly liberal, fairly privileged school where the vast majority of comments (especially at assemblies) are made with the best intentions. Can’t we simply accept that and move on? Anyway, sorry to anger you for swimming upstream. I hope you’re not offended.]]>

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  • B

    botooleJun 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    The relative comfort level some people have with their own sexuality has nothing to do with the offense some people take at the equation of “gay” with “stupid”. There are plenty of straight people who find that use of “gay” offensive.
    If you think same-sex attraction is immoral, wrong, or stupid, that’s fine; you’re entitled to your opinion and you have a right to express it. However, if you DON’T think it’s immoral, wrong, or stupid, then your quotidian speech should reflect that. If your thoughts and words don’t match, you are sending your listeners a mixed (and incorrect) message, and not-so-subtly betraying your own ideals. Precision in use of language is one of the skills you should be learning at Latin. Calling something “gay” when you mean “facinorous” weakens your opinion.
    It is easy to choose a word besides “gay”. What harm do you do to your own speech by NOT using slurs, profanity, and epithets? When you fall into easy speech patterns, aren’t you really just being mentally lazy?

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  • A

    achopraMay 28, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    An impressive statement. I agree with much of what you are saying. Yet the second example you give, of a person who might be able to learn something from a group of people using him as a model for ridiculable behavior, does not illustrate how we might ‘learn’ something that we have no control over… people ridiculing me about my willingness to risk my future by not studying is not the same as people ridiculing me because I’m brown-skinned (something I have no control of) and outside of their group. I certainly agree that we have swung too far to suppression of conversation, but I would like you to develop an argument for the second example, which reaches the depth of ignorance that they are made with, towards those who have no ability to choose to be part of the ‘in-group’.

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  • M

    mmalekMay 26, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I think constructive comments would be best here, Joseph

    Reply
  • J

    jbucciero11May 25, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Oh, Malek.

    Reply