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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

Think “micro-aggression” is a newly-coined term? It’s not.

Think back to the glorious days of yesteryear when families went on cross-country vacations: parents in the front seat, children in back and Samsonite suitcases. Holiday Inn motels were starting to squeeze out the tiny ma-and-pa tourist cabins.

About 20 miles down the road, right after the “Are we there yet?” whines began in the back seat, came wails of protest and complaints: “She’s looking at me; make her stop! He’s sitting on my side of the seat … she’s cheating on auto-bingo … he’s sticking out his tongue at other cars.”

You get the drift. It wouldn’t surprise me if cave dwellers experienced micro-aggression when some youngster protested, “He put his filthy handprint on the walls.”

Something someone else says or does, or doesn’t say or do, is irksome. It happens all the time. We’ve learned to put up with it, for the most part, or at least not take it personally. We either tolerate it, or decide to physically move away.

For example, a large store in Holland has a lighting and sound system I find overwhelming. Five minutes in the place and I’m either ready to re-enact a few scenes from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” or become catatonic. I’ve heard others say the same thing.

We all know the store didn’t have some diabolical plan to offend any customer, and that two or three complaints won’t change a thing, so we stay away and shop elsewhere.

People who are searching out micro-aggressions take a different approach, sometimes demanding that changes must be made to satisfy them. Everywhere must be what has come to be called a “safe space” where there is nothing that may traumatize them.

A few years ago, there were demands people quit applauding after presentations and snap their fingers instead. Universities, once known for free discussion and open debate, come under fire for inviting speakers who might challenge the beliefs of students and faculty members.

We can inadvertently offend someone with an act of micro-aggression without even trying. For example, asking where someone is from might offend them. So might be not maintaining eye contact. Conversely, not taking an interest in someone can be offensive, and too much eye contact might be a discomforting.

Life is too short to get ensnarled in figuring out all of that and coming to a resolution. The only thing we can do is tolerate others or move on, because we will never be able to make the world in our own image and to our own liking.