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From Dan Kennedy: on the tyranny of over-reaction

The local Cleveland media recently threw a hissy fit over a joke my friend Joan Rivers made on The Today Show. Joan said that the room she had to stay in when she visited Melissa was smaller and more uncomfortable than the basement those three women were locked up in Cleveland for all those years – referring to the Castro hostage story. As comedians say: too soon?  Joan used to do this same joke about hotel rooms she was stuck in while touring and Anne Frank’s hiding place.

When I saw the “breaking news” (!) tease about this, I expected something much worse and vicious from Joan than this. I was disappointed.

A successful Silicon Valley CEO was recently shoved out of his company when it came to light that several years before, he had made a small donation to a defense-of-traditional-marriage effort. We had the Duck Dynasty hubbub, over their patriarch’s interpretation of Biblical instruction regarding homosexuality. The media-hyped outrage against such things seems far greater than its criticism of corporate or entertainment figures advocating for the gay community, and there are no jokes about traditionalists off limits. But that’s not my point, and personally, I have no dog in that specific fight. That there is a profound liberal bias in mainstream media is inarguable, and well documented by my friends at Media Research Center. If it interests you, its

My point is, regardless of your positions on various issues and ideas, it’s not necessary or even healthy to be violently offended by differing opinions – particularly when expressed by comedians and satirists. We’ve become such a hyper, hyper-sensitive society that the slightest, briefest breeze is felt as a tornado. People are walking around eager to be offended. And equally eager to attack, harm, punish anyone offending them. Today, with social media as weapons arsenal, the hyper-sensitive, hyper-offended can exert enormous, undue influence. Deciding to demonize someone, deliberately set out to damage or ruin their career or business; to extract a pound of flesh and pint of blood because of a joke or jokes is extreme.

I am a political conservative-slash-libertarian. I still watch and enjoy and laugh at Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Colbert Report, Chelsea Handler, David Letterman, even Bill Maher – all decidedly biased and often unfair and sometimes vicious. Chris Matthews is often unintentionally funnier than any of them. Admittedly, I’m a student of humor and use it professionally. I have even written a book about it, which you can buy at amazon if you are so inclined: Make ‘Em Laugh And Take Their Money. I have racehorses to feed and veterinarians’ kids’ college tuitions to fund, so every royalty dollar is welcome. And I promise, if you speak, write or sell, you’ll learn useful things. And I hope be entertained. Maybe offended too.  But I’d urge everybody to take a few breaths, thicken skin, relax a little, don’t require ‘vanilla’ and safe and neutral, and be just a little more tolerant of others’ views and a little more forgiving of others’ poorly edited remarks. In a hyper-sensitive and punitive-of-thought society, we all wind up in constant peril.

This is no way to live: your finger having to hover over your edit button every minute of every day, while poised and waiting to pounce on anyone who dares rub you the wrong way.

As you may have noticed, there’s dust and spider-webs on my edit button. I do my best to avoid or extricate myself from environments where I am required to tippy-toe around, hyper-worried about saying something that might offend. Also, I’m rather hard to offend, and let folks relax around me. There’s a reason that a synonym for ‘insult’ is ‘a slight.

By the way, if you ever come to my home office, one of the things you’ll find in the bathroom is a framed poster of Shakespeare’s greatest insults.

The other night Letterman did a bit on the Top Ten Things Overheard At Jesus’ Wedding. I know a deeply committed evangelical Christian who, had she heard it, would have been deeply offended – to point of writing to CBS complaining, boycotting advertisers, throwing a fit for days.  Too bad. One would hope Jesus had a sense of humor. A good one of the ten was: this wine tastes watery. The best: Hey, look, Regis is here. (If I have to explain that, it can’t be funny to you, but for record, it refers to Regis Philbin.)  If your faith is so fragile you can’t find any of this funny, you can at least ignore it. You don’t need to make a big damn deal out of it.

There are actually people who benefit enormously from my business advice but depart from GKIC and disconnect anyway, because I write or say something they find philosophically, politically, gender-ly, etc. annoying or offensive. Nuts. Listen, if Studs Terkel interviewed 10 self-made billionaires, antagonistically, I’d still want to read it, and would wade through the haystack I found offensive, to find the gold needles. By the way, I have read Terkel, and drawn from it help with writing sales copy aimed at blue collar workers who feel under-appreciated, under-paid, put-upon. And if I’m ever sitting at a blackjack table winning every hand and a dealer puts on a ‘3rd Term For Obama’ button, I’m staying put and saying “split those aces, you Commie, you.”  No, you couldn’t drag me to a Babs Streisand concert because of her politics, but otherwise, I never give her much thought.

Joan Rivers or Letterman or Studs Terkel or Bernie Sanders (at least he’s honest) or your idiot neighbor – they just aren’t that important.

This bridges to a bigger principle of mine, I find myself having to remind myself of, often, and much more often, having to counsel coaching and consulting clients about – that the present moment is its own magnifying glass. Hardly anything is ever as bad – or as good – or as significant as it appears to be in its immediacy. The dullest knife seems to be sharp when it is pushed hard against the skin, and, at that moment, there’s nothing to compare it to, no context, no perspective. We yell “OW!” when we stub a toe and when we get thrown from the sulky through the air, crash to the ground and get trampled by horses. Or whatever your travail or injury is. We yell “FOUL!” over both slight and serious grievance. We democratize importance.

The longer I live, the more items that seemed of epic importance in their moments, especially the negative ones, prove themselves to be of zero significance and fade to vague and dull memories, to historical footnotes in tiny print, in pages in the back of the book nobody reads.

Over-reaction to anyone or anything imposes tyranny. Cruel and oppressive rule over your thoughts and emotions. Theft of your time and energy. Hijacking of your agenda and your productivity. Rage is useful but needs used selectively and proportionately. Same with fear and panic, offense at being disrespected or under-estimated, and virtually every other emotional response to stimulus.

When a priest, a rabbi, my favorite big, scary black guy Dwight Woods, a lesbian in corduroy trousers and Birkenstocks, a Mormon Presidential candidate wearing magic under-pants, Andrew Dice Clay, a fat doctor who smokes, a lawyer nobody likes, and Roseann Barr walk into a bar…… let’s laugh. And when confronted with a serious problem, fight for perspective. Resist the tyranny of over-reaction.

Source: Dan Kennedy


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