Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Handshakes, children’s poems, and the loss of responsibility

Handshakes could be BANNED under new workplace rules to avoid expensive sexual harassment claims

So reads a headline in The Sun. No one is actually considering banning handshakes. Instead, it’s a cautionary “what if” from an “employment expert,” saying what could happen if employers take sexual harassment precautions to far.

I thought of that story as I read a different story yesterday, one about book of children’s poems banned from Costco because a “concerned mom” did not like the content of one of the poems.

A singer-songwriter is facing the wrath of the internet after social media posts criticizing a book of poems he wrote went viral. 
Rhett Miller is a musical artist and author. His latest work, “No More Poems!: A Book in Verse That Just Gets Worse” was released last month.… 
Kayla Sykes posted about the poem “Brotherly Love” on Facebook. It talks about a girl about dealing with her annoying little brother. 
The poem suggests how not to deal with obnoxious siblings: 
“Please don’t drown your brother in the bathtub, Sweetie Pea. he can be a twerp sometimes. I know, believe you me. But if you dunk hi three times and he only comes up two, the cops’ll be all over us. There’s nothing I can do.” 
“If you take a pillow and you smother brother’s head, I’ve got a strong suspicion that he just might wake up dead.” 
Sykes called the poem “disgusting,” saying it includes “horrifying” details on how to kill siblings.… 
Miller’s Facebook page is riddled with posts calling the poem “sick and demented,” “cruel,” “vile” and “evil.”

What has happened to our society? We’re talking about banning handshakes out of misguided fear of someone misinterpreting basic human contact for sexual harassment? We’re shaming an author because we don’t know how to talk to our own kids?

Somewhere along the line we have lost our sense of personal responsibility, both at work and in life. #MeToo has become #NotMe (or maybe it’s the other way around). It’s easier to avoid, deflect, or blame someone else than to deal with the sometimes-harsh realities of life.

Don’t misunderstand, the underlying issues are serious. I would never suggest that we do anything other than treat workplace harassment with sincerity, and, when necessary, with harshness. However, when we regulate interpersonal contact to the point of eliminating handshakes, we have done ourselves, and our important stance against inappropriate workplace conduct, a grave disservice. We cannot expect others to give this issue the serious consideration it deserves when we make it a satire of itself by over-regulating conduct to the point of absurdity.

And, the same goes for Ms. Sykes’s crusade against Rhett Miller’s No More Poems! The answer to the question of what do you do with a book you feel is inappropriate for your children is not, “Ban the book!” It’s, “Don’t buy the book,” or, “Don’t read the book to your children.” Censorship is a dangerous slope to travel down. Where’s the line? What happens when someone else’s line is different than yours, and you lose something you value as a result? All art is subjective. The answer to art that you find offensive is not to ban it or have it removed from stores to deny it to others. The answer is simply not to buy it. That’s your choice. Don’t deny me mine.

I view the hypothetical handshake ban and the real book ban as the same issue. It’s no longer acceptable to own responsibility for ourselves. Everything is someone else’s problem, and what we cannot handle, rules must eliminate for us in the name of protection. But protection from what? It’s not from others. It’s from ourselves. I can take care of myself, thank you very much.

Another famous poet, William Butler Yeats, wrote, “Between extremities man runs his course.” I’m not sure that’s true anymore. We are living our lives more and more in the extremities. And we are much worse off for it.

* Photo via Dan Santat on Instagram.