Bill Maher wrote an op ed in the New York Times last week that has got quite a lot of people all hot and bothered. Entitled “Please stop apologising”, the piece criticises the recent outrage and calls for apologies from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Robert De Niro and David Axelrod (President Obama’s chief political strategist), and calls for at least one day a year when everyone can have amnesty for “every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront”. Maher wants a “national Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize”. I have to admit, I agree with Maher on this one.
I tend not to talk or read about the ridiculous soap opera like fallouts whenever a public figure puts their foot in their mouth and someone, somewhere, is able to muster faux outrage and call for an apology. For starters I find it ridiculous that someone can be vilified for speech, and secondly I find both the requests for apologies, as well as the apologies themselves, completely insincere. Unless said speech causes actual harm (such as physical or emotional duress), what is the big deal? Does anyone truly believe that Robert De Niro inflicted pain by saying: “Calista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is read for a white first lady”? Are there white children out there right now whose hopes have been dashed by De Niro’s unkind words?
Furthermore, we all know when we say something stupid and hurtful, and most of us feel bad straight away when we realise we have hurt someone. A real apology comes the moment we know we have done wrong, not later after the bad PR has finally overcome what little good being in the spotlight brought. And calling for apologies? What apology is real when it has to be requested? How many of us have watched a child being told by their parents to apologise to the kid they were just teasing, and thought that apology was sincere?
But I think Maher’s most poignant point comes when he asks: “when did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?” There is no right not to be offended. It is not codified in laws, and it is not codified in any moral code I can think of. The reason being, it is virtually impossible to get out of bed in the morning without doing something that someone, somewhere, will find offensive. If we are to live together, we need to realise that we wont all get along, and some people (like me) are just jerks.
In conclusion, I shall leave you with Maher’s words of wisdom: “The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not ‘make them go away forever.’ We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program”.
Here’s to making this the “Universal Eternity of No Outrage”.