FLORENCE GILKESON: Thin Skins: Sensitivities Seem to Have Reached Record Highs
The whimsical saying about a little boy who was trying very hard to be polite and do the right thing went something like this: I try to say thank you and please, and when I find something dead, I bury it.
It gives the picture of a child well trained and even compassionate about road kill.
Oh, for the days when civility was the expected behavior. Today, it appears that civility has largely disappeared from the public scene and has been replaced by supersensitivity.
In the late 1960s, I served on a human rights committee appointed to soothe race relations in preparation for integration of the public schools in Laurinburg and Scotland County. What I remember as much as anything was not the sensitivities between the races so much as it was the sensitivities not related to racism.
Everybody has a pet peeve, but some of us are better equipped to deal with insensitive comments than others. For the most part, I have learned to cope either by ignoring remarks or treating them with humor.
Some folks can't change, or won't.
The outcry generated among Muslims after Pope Benedict's recent address at a university in Germany is an example to end examples. As a Protestant, I've never felt allegiance to the pope. Nevertheless, I do recognize that the pope is the most visible spokesman for Christianity, although I tend to lean more in the direction of evangelist Billy Graham.
No doubt, the pope dropped wisdom from his resume when he made reference to a tidbit from history that refers to the Prophet Muhammad and violence. A year earlier the outrage, accompanied by violence and death threats, was directed at cartoons by a Danish artist.
Now an obscure opera by Mozart has been canceled by a German opera company because one scene shows the king of Crete displaying the severed head of Muhammad. Of course, the king also displayed the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and the pagan god Poseidon of Greek mythology, but apparently the German impresario was not concerned about displays of outrage by Christians and Buddhists (I'm unaware of any substantial following for Poseidon today).
Withdrawal of the opera "Idomeneo" generated some outrage on the part of music lovers. Leading critics of the decision were people who charged that the opera simply reflects an ancient tale from mythology, is not anti-religious and certainly is not directed at any one faith. They also argued that the decision is a slap at freedom of expression and the liberated spirit of the artist.
It was the first time I had ever heard of this particular Mozart opera. I am a lover of classical music and opera, but this one must be rarely performed. Otherwise, I am a real musical ignoramus.
Chances are that I would never have an opportunity to attend a performance of "Idomeneo," for, alas, I have few opportunities to attend live performances of opera. If I had my choice, I would probably pick other works by Mozart, the familiar "Don Giovanni," "Cosi Fan Tutte," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic Flute."
One of the sad things about withdrawal of the opera is that 2006 marks the 250th year of Mozart's birth, and the big opera houses and festivals are celebrating the year with sterling performances of Mozart's music, an ideal opportunity to showcase such obscure works as "Idomeneo."
Looking at worldly woes of poverty, war, and oppression, this incident in Berlin is of little significance. It's just another sign of the times. We live in a world where pockets of hostility, poverty, and anger breed violence and where affluent nations, such as our own, appear clueless about issues facing the rest of the world.
Remember the sad incident of the teacher who, in all innocence, used the word "niggardly" and was fired, apparently by a principal so ignorant he or she did not know that the word has no racial connotations at all and is perfectly respectable? For the uninformed, niggardly means overly frugal -- describing a tightwad.
Where will it all stop? We already have attacks on our basic freedoms in this country.
Perhaps I should join those folks who are scared to open their mouths or write a simple sentence lest they accidentally offend someone of a different race, religion, ethnic background, sex or someone just like me (that's happened).
Incidentally, no animals were injured in the preparation of this column, although a small sapling may have been cut down.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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