Yesterday, on NPR, Juan Williams presented a story entitled “Is Race A Factor In Protests Of Obama Initiatives?”
I must admit, I had somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction to that story. I have always been resistant to people bringing up accusations of -isms when criticizing the actions of others. That holds true for racism, sexism, and naziism to name just a few.1
One comment of Williams’ that really stood out to me was when he said:
WILLIAMS: Well, there was an undercurrent, but in recent days the episode with Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouting out, You lie, as Obama was speaking to the joint session has really exacerbated that anxiety, and it’s led to this notion that there is disrespect, even condescension, in the way that Obama is being treated as compared to any other president of the United States.
I found myself thinking that this isn’t so much a disprespect directed at the President because he is black, but rather a further manifestation of what I believe we have been seeing ever since the “me” generation of the 70s. Once we were told that WE were important, and that in a relativistic society *I* am the most important person in *my* life, it was only a matter of time until that level of narcissism pervaded every aspect of society. We have been seeing it for years in talk radio and talking-head television shows when one person just shouts louder and louder, denying the other the basic right to be heard. Why? Because what you have to say isn’t important because it gets in the way of what *I* want to say.
Rabbi Hirschfield, in his article “Why Joe (and Kanye and Serena) Won’t Apologize” from today’s Washington Post, points out that Wilson’s outburst is a symptom of something greater.
Over the past seven days, we have been treated to obnoxious outbursts by leading figures not only in politics, but in sports and pop culture as well. In addition to the heckle heard round the world issued by Rep. Wilson, there was the verbal attack launched by Serena Williams against a line judge at the U.S. Open, and the boorish behavior displayed by rapper and music producer Kanye West when he grabbed the microphone from award winner Taylor Swift at MTV’s Video Music Awards.
All of these stories are rooted in the same basic fact: speakers who think it’s all about them. And if it isn’t about them, they seem to think it must be about some other individual who is even more important than they are. Apparently though, it’s beyond any of the offenders’ ability to appreciate that civility is about all of us.
So while others were stunned, shocked, or outraged, I was not surprised by Wilson’s outburst, any more than I am surprised at the outbursts of any other public, or private, figure that chooses to elevate themselves over all others. Look around. We have been hearing reports of teens killing each other over sneakers. A cheerleader mom taking a “contract” out on her daughter’s rival. Once we start seeing achieving our happiness as “all important” and achieving our goals in life as the most important aspect, it is little wonder we as a society start to devolve into a society of rudeness, and violence. It is this propensity to devolve into violence then that has me concurring with Juan Williams when he says:
And it’s also then, I think, led to lots of discussion of whether or not there’s a greater chance of Obama being physically attacked, assaulted. This was heightened, of course, by people who were bringing guns to some of the August and other tea party events, you know, to express opposition to President Obama’s policies.
But let me be clear–I certainly believe there are some people who are opposed to Barrack Obama simply because of the color of his skin. I cannot personally understand that, but I do know they exist. But I think this cuts deeper. It is my opinion that, when confronted with views in opposition to one’s own (either from the left, or the right) people have a tendency to view themselves as correct, and superior. And once they step across that line, they believe they can justify any words, any action.
Perhaps I need to rethink my resistance to all charges of -isms. If the Rabbi is right, then we do have a problem, and it is “Narcissism.”
1. Of course in instances where one wears a white sheet, a swastika, and so forth you will get no argument from me. I am not blind!