Two-people-talking-logoSometimes I feel grossly ignorant.

Compared to many, I’m not. I make an effort to follow the news and I attempt to understand the larger issues behind each story. I know the difference between right and wrong, and I try to accept that my idea of wrong isn’t shared by everyone. My parents taught me I am never to judge a person for their differences, because differences absolutely never equate to “less than.” The most quantifiable proof I can give is the excellent education I have been privileged enough to experience (although there are some painfully myopic individuals that lay claim to education much higher than my own).

I know not to be intolerant. Ignorance is trickier. There’s so much going on in America, and it’s all moving so quickly. There are instances of terrorism, racism, sexism, homophobic attitudes and a general misunderstanding of mental health. We have a divided government, generally disparate beliefs, there’s an awkward schism between “religious” and “non-religious” and within that schism are all the fractures of different religious beliefs, ideologies and practices. I’m not being coy when I say there’s a lot going on and it’s overwhelming to anyone that attempts to remain well-versed. We all should try to remain well-versed, though. I’ve always held the vaguely romanticized belief that if I can just sit “Intolerance” down for a nice chat, I’ll be able to fight it off with my sharp, intellectual words of wisdom.

Unfortunately, people don’t work like that. Not to mention there’s a lot to wade through; all the social and political issues storming America are vastly more complex than my 11th grade history teacher had me believe. To really understand the implications of a movement, and the reasoning behind it, takes a tremendous amount of social awareness. Often, it requires context — another ocean to wade through. Then, once you develop an understanding, you have to learn to phrase that understanding in a way that is deemed societally acceptable. It isn’t enough to simply try and please the multitude of varied beliefs and cultures that inhabit America — it is your moral obligation to mold your vocabulary around their feelings.

A few weeks ago, Benedict Cumberbatch was describing racial inequality in the performing arts industry, and in stating his opinion, he described people of color as “colored.” Cumberbatch was fiercely reprimanded for his use of archaic language — understandably. It is an outdated, offensive term, and Cumberbatch responded with a sincere apology — one that noted the bitter irony of offending those he was trying to defend.

So there we go: a fairly mild example of how important it is to use correct terminology when discussing … anything, really. Because it is so important to deliver an argument in a politically correct manner if you want it to be taken under serious consideration. Not just politically correct, though: politically perfect.

The question that’s been plaguing me is this: Are we, as a nation, too sensitive?

Hear me out. I know causing offense is a bad thing, but is steadfastly avoiding it the way to combat injustice? One should always think before they speak, but by combing through our words before we even open our mouths do we risk eliminating the heart of our belief?

In October 2014, Adam Shapiro hung a sign outside his dorm room door at Columbia University saying “I do not want this room to be a safe space.” This was done in response to a movement that swept his university, asking all students to declare their rooms “safe zones”: areas designed to free participants from homophobia, racism, sexism and more.

Shapiro wasn’t opposing the attempt to destabilize bigoted views; he was opposing the restriction on free speech. In his mind, the attempt to rid a space of anything negative would subsequently ignore the evils that need to be discussed.

At what point does the bubble-wrap we layer ourselves in stop protecting our falls, and start deafening us?

I have to say, I’m in agreement. Inviting a group of like-minded students to discuss topics is one thing; placing restrictions on the discussion so as to avoid hurting one’s feelings is another thing altogether. Obviously, if one party begins hurling insults at the other then it isn’t a valuable discussion, but I don’t think a debate can be worthy if there is no room to make mistake. Some of my most integral opinions have been formed after I’ve spouted a belief, only to realize how wrong it is. Things are easily justifiable in your own mind. Speaking them out loud invalidates them in a way not much else can. Hearing your own words is powerful. Hearing a response is even more so.

My thing (and it could be an absolutely wrong, grossly ignorant thing to have) is this: At what point does the bubble-wrap we layer ourselves in stop protecting our falls, and start deafening us?

I acknowledge that one should always be aware of another’s feelings, but I don’t think we should continue to place such a strong emphasis on the tailoring of our speech. The constant censorship our minds experience is a step in the right direction because it is a step towards awareness. We go wrong when we step too far, and lose the intent of our argument in our attempt to avoid causing any offense. People must strive to understand one another better, to forge opinions from the red hot coals of uncomfortable truths and differing perspectives. I want to fight for what I believe to be an injustice, not muddle my way through it in the hopes that I find my way to the top unscathed.

I still think Intolerance and I should sit down for a nice chat. But if Intolerance is always hiding in the shadows, if I’ve closed my door on Intolerance’s face, how will I ever change Intolerance’s mind? I say we drag Intolerance into the light — and we don’t take any special measures to protect its feelings.

Alyssa Evans is tired of editing her speech — sometimes the best things are rough, imperfect drafts.