My grandparents—who winter in Yuma—drove up for Thanksgiving. They stayed three nights, during which time we ate, drank and were generally merry. The day after the big meal my grandma loaded the kids into her car and drove them to the nearby Dairy Queen for a blizzard. My husband, grandpa and I, meanwhile, cleaned up the remnants of a card game and visited over a root beer cocktail (it was only fair, since we were missing out on the blizzards). As he often does, my grandpa commented on the state of our society, noting that “these days everybody is going around looking for a reason to be offended.” Normally, I shrug off his comments and chalk them up to a generational gap, but this particular one seemed to be aimed ever so slightly at me.
A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post about the time I corrected a Costco employee when she tried to engage me in a quip about her coworker taking the “short bus” to work. As the mother of a child with Down syndrome, these types of “jokes” are hardly amusing to me. I said as much in my blog post and because he is a loyal reader, I knew my grandpa had read the post. As we sat around the table sipping our grown-up root beer floats, I couldn’t help but feel as though he was grouping me together with the generation who seeks to be offended.
I respectfully disagree with my grandpa and here’s why. I believe the world to be a smaller place today than it was sixty or so years ago when my grandpa was a young man. The way he explains it, back in the day it was commonplace for people to use disparaging language in reference to anyone outside of what was considered “normal.” That would include people in various races, of various sexual orientations and cognitive abilities. I can’t say for sure because it was well before my time, but I suspect that part of the acceptance of that kind of behavior stemmed from a lack of awareness. Fewer people had gay friends or knew someone with Down syndrome and so those lifestyles—the complications and characteristics of their days—were difficult, if not impossible to understand. And so those who were atypical made easy targets.
Today we have so many outlets through which we get to know people. Personally, I can think of at least a handful of people who I consider to be friends, in spite of the fact that our eyes have never met. Whether it’s through Facebook or blogs or otherwise, I have gained a deeper understanding of the lives of people I might not have anything in common with.
My grandpa may not agree with me on this one, but I can’t help but think that increased awareness of and sensitivity to the challenges that other people face can—and should—be considered progress.
It’s not a matter of a whole generation seeking out reasons to be offended. It’s a matter of people seeking out ways to spread awareness. To be more kind. To be more understanding.
I suppose that if I am to be lumped in with a group of people for anything, there are far worse characteristics to be known for.