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Bordering on foolishness

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  • April 15, 2016

It is not right to make fun of someone’s writing. I fear the critical boomerang may come back and slap me in the face.

Today, though, I am going to risk it. Not for the sake of mockery but to demonstrate how low the users of the English language have sunk and how dangerous this is for those of us trying to seek some truth in this strange world.

We all know examples of this. “Death with dignity” instead of euthanasia or just plain killing. “Sex worker” instead of prostitute. And “collateral damage” instead of “We just killed a bunch innocent men, women and children.”

These terms can lull us into a sense of false comfort by shaving away the sharp edges and blunting the harsh reality of a situation.

The item at hand appeared in The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s student newspaper.

“U of T Students For Life faces allegations of inappropriate conduct,” a headline reads. The story goes on to say: “Criticisms have been circulating this year that the group’s conduct borders on inappropriate. Allegedly, their graphic, bold activism on campus has triggered students. Their activism includes participating in ‘Choice Chains,’ where students stand on public sidewalks with images of aborted fetuses in an attempt to engage the public.”

A founder of the University of Toronto Students for Choice told The Varsity, “Anyone who walks by their demonstrations is affected, especially folks with a female-assigned reproductive system who could have, or already have had, to make a decision regarding the termination of a pregnancy. It makes campus more unwelcoming to those people.”

Twenty years ago this article would have been considered satire, an art form many now find foreign or plain mean. In many universities, everyone deserves a “safe space,” and being made uncomfortable is considered an assault, akin to a punch or a cross burning.

The word “inappropriate” can apply to any action or reaction. I can find your taste in music inappropriate because I think you are too old for songs about teen misery or the music of Katy Perry.

It is a mushy word that should be replaced by more specific dictionary entries: evil, sinful, awful, bad, dangerous or bigoted. It cannot be debated because it is purely subjective and no one can prove that someone’s behaviour is not inappropriate because it is all in the eye of beholder… I mean the victim.

So something that “borders on the inappropriate” is even more inane. Think about it. How can something border on being inappropriate? It takes a meaningless word and adds gradations of meaninglessness.

When I speak out against euthanasia I call it what I believe it to be: a sin and a tragedy. Who would listen to me if I consistently called killing people inappropriate?

George Orwell once said: “Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

It is almost too obvious to say but universities were once a place to exchange ideas. How can someone become a critical thinker if they cannot engage other ideas without screaming “help”? It will turn these young people into perpetual teenagers who will be unable to think critically. Or worse, totalitarians without a whit of sympathy for those who think differently.

For Catholics this is a real danger. Anything we do can be called inappropriate — from refusing women the priesthood to being pro-life. We have already seen this in the threat to pull funding from Catholic hospitals and hospices that refuse to go along with legalized abortion. Our crime: being inappropriate.

A few years ago I interviewed Toronto lawyer Daniel Santoro, lawyer for Linda Gibbons, the anti-abortion protester who has spent years in and out of prison for standing too close to abortion centres in Toronto. He explained to me what was the fundamental error in arresting Ms. Gibbons for her simple, non-violent acts.

“I get bombarded in this every day of my life with people on the street asking if I want to donate money or asking me for this or that and I get all sorts of things shoved in my face,” Mr. Santoro said. “I don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean I get the right to get a law prohibiting that from happening.

“No one has the right to never be made to feel uncomfortable.”

(Lewis is a freelance writer and former religion editor at the National Post.)

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