NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Thursday, January 22, 2009


by Ian Buruma
(from The Best American Essays 2007)

"When a touchy subject can no longer be openly and rationally discussed, it is left up to the bigots to talk about it irrationally."
-- Ian Buruma
While I read this essay, my thoughts swirled around the last couple months of the 2008 presidential election. Some of the author's points were captured perfectly at that time. Emotions were at a fever pitch on both sides. If you ridiculed Sarah Palin, you were sexist. If you criticized Barack Obama, you were racist. In reality, this kind of thinking goes on all the time. People are accused of homophobia, misogyny, prejudice or any number of other epithets for not liking, disagreeing with or questioning another person's words, beliefs or actions. And fear of being labeled as such can stifle or shutdown potentially educational discussion.

Part of living with the freedom of speech is understanding that not only do you get to speak freely, but so do others. And you might not like what they have to say. Granted, and most unfortunately, there is plenty of homophobia, misogyny, prejudice, etc., etc., alive and well in our society, but "[w]here exactly is the border between criticism or ridicule and 'stirring up hatred?' " When the speech is your own, you know on which side your meaning lies. If it's someone else's, how do you know? And what is the proper response?

The author does not answer these questions, but the point is made: Our right to free speech, which many people in many countries do not have, does not include the right to not be offended. However, we can talk about it! :-)


Michele said...

Lovely summary, Lezlie! You're right...we are far too offended by words these days. Even in books, people are offended by religion, sex, profanity, etc. *Sigh* We (including myself) just need to get over it. ;)

Lezlie said...

Michele ~ Thank you! Ironically, I wasn't sure how to approach this one without offending somebody. :-)


Literary Feline said...

I agree with Michele; I very much appreciated your summary and think you brought up many good points. Especially about how differing opinions, or criticism, is taken out of context and twisted to mean more than it does, when really, all it is is someone else's point of view. I'm probably guilty of it sometimes--I imagine we all are.

Lezlie said...

Literary Feline ~ I do believe we're all guilty of it sometimes. That's why it's good to be reminded now and then. :-)


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great essay, Lezlie! I'm adding the link to our list of essay reviews on the Essay Challenge page.

Lezlie said...

Carrie ~ Thanks! I always forget to do that.


Andi said...

Ooh, sounds right up my alley! And this is one I think I'd toss out to my students and let them bat it around.

Amy said...

Sounds like a great essay! Just today I've been trying to figure out how to work the religious fiction category for BBAW awards. It was so agonizing, b/c seriously, no matter what we came up with, someone didn't like it!

While I really like how sensitive and politically correct we are in America (and we ARE, believe me) sometimes I think we set ourselves up for more confusion and misunderstanding with it.

I love that we have freedom of speech and would rather err on the side of sometimes saying the wrong thing or even sometimes being offended myself than ever have it taken away.

Lezlie said...

Andi ~ I would love to know what your students would have to say!

Amy ~ It's a tough balancing act, isn't it? I don't think having people understand that there is no right not to be offended gives us carte blanche to say whatever we want, but I do think that we've gotten *so* PC that it has gotten ridiculous. If I'm not mistaken, you've opened up a couple of cans of worms on your blog, and, just so you know, I applaud you for doing that. You were very reasonable in your comments and opened up really good discussion.


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