Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Reception, Not the Intent

In which I wander far afield of my usual posts.

Many, probably most, of you have heard that the Friends School of Baltimore, after originally posting a link to a Washington Post article featuring alumnus Ryan T. Anderson, removed the link because readers were offended by Mr. Anderson's opposition to same-sex marriage.  In explaining his reasons for his decision to remove the link, Matt Micciche, head of the school, said:
By far, the most important factor in my decision to remove this post were the voices of students and alumni who felt that by posting this article, we were, as a school, validating (if not tacitly endorsing) the views that Mr. Anderson put forth in the article as he described his work opposing same-sex marriage. While that was not our intent, as we often point out to students, it is the reception, rather than the intent, that matters [emphasis mine].
It's this last line that pulled me up short. So we are teaching children that it doesn't matter how innocent a person's intent may have been, if you receive their words or actions as being offensive, they are guilty of an offense. This is absolute death to any desire to have a rational, polite discussion on any topic on which we disagree. If I placed all my hope in the belief that people who disagree can calmly and rationally discuss their differences, I would now be in complete despair. Fortunately, that is not where I place my hope, but it still looks really bad on the toleration front.

A bit later I came across this article which begins:
A California college has apologized for its “insensitivity” after serving Mexican food at an official school night party whose theme, “Intergalactic,” included decorations featuring aliens from outer space.
I thought it had to be a spoof. I kept looking for the Onion's logo, but to no avail.

According to the article, these students have had other themed events. For Midnight in Paris night, they had French food. For Harry Potter night, they had turkey, potatoes and stew. I would have preferred chocolate frogs, but there's no accounting for taste. And when it came time for the space alien event, "students landed on Mexican food because they weren't sure what food would work with the intergalactic theme." Ah, perfidy indeed.

So, despite the fact that the students had the commendable intent to feed hungry scholars (always a monumental and thankless task) and foster fellowship on campus, they are guilty by reason of reception, and will now be subjected to Orwellian reprogramming, or, as it is now known, cultural competence training.

This whole scenario is ridiculous, but the underlying message that one can determine the moral validity of a person's words or action by the way one chooses to receive them is terribly dangerous. There is no way to ever know when you have overstepped some invisible line that you did not know existed. But even more, it is an impossible obstacle to charity. If we are going to love our fellow man, we must do the exact opposite of what this educator is saying. We must be willing to put the best possible interpretation on the words and actions of those around us. This puts us in a very vulnerable position. It's a real risk. But it's the true school of friendship in Baltimore or anywhere else.


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