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Publisher / Editor:
Paul Hayden

A New Kind of Crazy

January 1, 2024

There is a program on Lifetime Network about young people who have struck out at the dating game and have signed up with a team of experts to marry a complete stranger, based on numerous measures of compatibility. Unfortunately, as insightful as the experts appear to be on the subject of marriage and what it takes for one to work, the failure rate is quite high. Over the last ten seasons or so, the vast majority of the marriages ended in divorce. Most of the failures stem from one or both new spouse's inability to adapt to the rigors of a new marriage to someone they don’t know, especially in the area of compromise. This inability has led to some ridiculous and childish standoffs. A recent one of these stands out from the others.

An attractive African-American woman was paired with a Native American man who was almost obsessively proud and protective of his heritage. The new wife was intelligent, an interesting conversationalist, and passionate about making her new marriage work. Despite her deep awareness of the potential problems two minority spouses may face, she was utterly unprepared for the sensitivity displayed by her spouse, especially regarding the term “redskin.” After he explained what this term meant and why it was so offensive (literally describing the effect of scalping Native Americans by white settlers), she noticed he was blushing and made a rather crude joke about his fitting the term. No doubt the “joke” was in poor taste even though she meant it only as a tease; you don’t have to have “woke” sympathies to recognize that. However, his reaction didn’t match the momentary insult to his personhood. He claimed he was unable to forgive his wife even though she apologized profusely and repeatedly. This was because, in his view, her unintended insult cut to the heart of his culture, and therefore hurt not only him but his family and his people. So, just like that, their marriage went up in flames after a promising beginning.

This over-the-top reaction says a lot about the ease with which certain people and groups these days are offended. The question that needs to be addressed is this: How can we overcome the widening division in our country when so many people are so easily offended? Closer to home, how do families reconcile with members who are easily offended and therefore may cut off communication over apparent trivialities?  As one who has experienced this in my family, it’s an awkward and heartbreaking situation. How does one apologize for what they believe is an acceptable action or statement that someone took the wrong way? Especially when you tell them, “You’ve taken this all wrong” and they refuse to believe you? I’ve observed and been a part of what seemed to be trifling issues that explode and destroy once-healthy relationships between family members. Maybe the “healthiness” felt before to the break was only an illusion; maybe we’re so dysfunctional at this point that we’ll grab onto anything that even approaches “normalcy,” whatever that means anymore.

The irony of all this is that we live in a culture of disrespect. Don’t think so? Just watch an evening of network TV, especially what passes for humor these days. Or consider the legions of people using the anonymity of the keyboard and internet to slam others with impunity. This is especially true in the worlds of sports and politics, which in recent years have become inappropriately enmeshed. Yet somehow most of these people expect to be respected in return despite their crass behavior, and double down if anyone dares challenge them. When younger generations use the derisive expression, “OK, Boomer” that touches a nerve with me. That expression, in my view, is loaded with disdain and contempt, with the implication that my generation has massively failed those who followed it.  Am I wrong about that and guilty of over-reacting, or am I reading this correctly? Have we Boomers (outside of those who served in Vietnam and perhaps Desert Storm) had it pretty easy compared to other generations? If so, how can we expect the younger ones to listen to whatever wise counsel we may have for them? How do we bring respect back into the conversation?

Now that I’m retired, I have had more time to reflect on past behavior, especially the many times when I over-reacted and caused a needless argument to occur. So when I offer a heartfelt plea to please not do that, especially this Christmas season, remember that if I’m pointing a finger at you, I’m also pointing three back at myself. If we can try our best to think about what could be hurtful and unnecessary before we speak, then perhaps things can be brighter in our corner of the world.

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