Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sensitivity Training

As a rock-solid conservative, those two words make my skin crawl. Sensitivity training brings to mind a forced meeting at a company, government office, or school where some holier-than-thou social worker will teach us how to think about or act towards others. It cries out of political correctness and group think. It suggests that we deny stereotypes that we know have basis in fact. It tells us that certain groups have a different status because they have been mistreated in the past.

I suspect the percentage of folks in the population who think its fun or right to be insensitive to the feelings of others is rather small. Sure, when we get in groups, that percentage rises as we try to fit in or even increase our status within the group by acting out in ways we think the group will applaud. But generally, most people I know desire to be nice most of the time. I would certainly count myself among that group. However, I have had my head handed to me on this subject a couple of times lately. And in one case it lead to a convergence of thoughts on the subject.

One such time was at a web forum called Stacy Harp over at had suggested on her blog that this was a fun forum. Now Stacy is a solid Christian, her blog is about media from a Christian perspective, and the visitors to her site are probably overwhelmingly Christian. Therefore I assumed (whoops!) that she was sending me to a Christian forum.

I scooted over to the forum, didn’t read any of the other articles that were posted, and just dropped a bomb on the site. I posted Porn and Its Consequences which you can read here. You can be certain that on this very secular site where some of the most prolific commenters and posters are gay, lesbian, living with their significant others, etc., that this article drew lots of comments (many not printable on this site.) The number and nature of the comments reflected the fact that the article was written in a way that assumed a Christian audience.

Later, one of the more even handed commenters said to me: Did you even check out the audience before you posted? No. I hadn’t. And that raised an important issue. Words spoken in private or to a group that shares your thinking or values may take on entirely different meaning when spoken in front of a group that doesn’t. In the latter case your words may come of as threatening, dehumanizing, or mean spirited.

Then this same commenter gave the discussion an interesting twist. This same sensitivity needs to be applied to proselytizing. Those who hold strong views sometimes feel an urgency to share their views, even sell their views, to others. (That would be me.) However, it can be pretty insensitive to share those views with someone who doesn’t want to hear it. He suggested that he expects to be sold ideas in the forum, but that he doesn’t necessarily expect to get told about Jesus by the guy who comes to paint his house.

Sensitivity. I’ve kind of grown to dislike the word. I think it might have to do with the fact that those who are trying to shove it down our throats are not being very sensitive. So maybe we’ll need a new word to describe something that we undoubtedly should be more attuned to.

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