Sometimes you gotta get burned to learn.
I made the mistake of offering condolences to Hugo Schwyzer upon learning that someone had called him a simpering, sanctimonious little prick, or somesuch similar. The following then transpired:
* I learned who had said it, and in response to what.
* Hugo's thread was promptly enlivened by a throng of MRA trolls back-patting him, defending Falwell, and insulting everyone else, including me, the moron who'd sort of agreed with Hugo in the first place.
* Deservedly, I felt like an asshole.
And now, a little story:
About ten years ago, my mom was working on a talk for her church, and for whatever reason she solicited my advice on the thing, specifically asking for honest criticism. (The cool thing about my mom is that if she does that, she's game to hear what you have to say. She's not kidding around. You can tell her, I like this, not so hot on that.)
Even so, I hesitated after she'd finished reading it to me, because I had good news and bad news. The good news was, as Mormon talks go, hers was a good one. The bad news was, she'd wound it up with a sentence beginning, "I challenge you, my brothers and sisters . . . ."
Maybe Ms. Jared can back me up on this: "I challenge you" is common parlance in the Mormon church. I don't remember what the challenge in my mother's talk was--it could have been to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety (admittedly a real challenge because, damn, is that book boring; I never finished it, myself), or to do your geneology work (it's important to know who your dead relatives are, so you can baptize them by proxy in case they were heathens), or one of any number of things Mormons are "challenged" to do by their peers every single day of their busy lives until they are finally relieved from duty by sweet, merciful death.
It's exhausting being a Mormon.
Anyway, "I challenge you, my brothers and sisters," is very common Mormon-speak, and I had always, always hated it. I really started hating it when some substitute Sunday school teacher used it long ago in my Sunday school class, a class of seven year old children. He had challenged us to bear our testimonies in Sacrament meeting that Sunday. This is where you get up and thank God for everything and then tell everyone that you know that the Mormon church is True, just like the Spandau Ballet song.
People, I write, but I don't talk. Didn't then, don't much now. And I sure as hell was not equipped at the tender age of seven to get up in front of the entire church and tell everybody how fervently I believed the church was true. The prospect was terrifying.
As it happened, my family ditched out on Sacrament meeting that Sunday, so I was off the hook, theoretically. Practically, however, I could not relax. I got more and more upset, thinking how Brother WhoeverTheHell had challenged me to do something I could no more do than I could fly, and how I'd told him I would do it, and now I wasn't even in Sacrament meeting, which meant I had broken a promise and lied to my Sunday school teacher, and while Mormons aren't the sort to threaten eternal damnation with any real frequency, surely lying to a Sunday school teacher was a wicked, awful thing to do.
When I eventually confessed in tears to my mother that I had promised my Sunday school teacher I'd bear my testimony "as challenged," she snorted and told me he had some nerve scaring little kids like that; now come set the table. Where is your father? He knows we're going to eat in five minutes.
And that was the end of it. But I never forgot it, and I never stopped grinding my teeth whenever I heard some fellow Mormon challenging people.
Because, as I explained to my mom when she asked me what I thought of her talk ("Very good! Love almost all of it! Hate the challenging!"), the problem with "I challenge you" is that it presumes the speaker is in any such position to be challenging people (or as I think of it, tasking them with silly self-improvement assignments so they can never know peace or serenity) to begin with. You see what I mean? Who's Sister SoAndSo to be challenging me? Sister SoAndSo beats her kids with a ruler! Who's Brother SomeGuy to be challenging Brother JelloSalad? Brother SomeGuy keeps a liquor cabinet down the basement. And it's not empty!
My mom saw what I was saying, and she revised the concluding sentence to ix-nay the allenging-chay. But she also said it was interesting to her that I felt that way about it, because she had never even imagined that interpretation of the phrase before.
This makes sense, because my mom LOVES challenges. She'd tell you she doesn't, but she does. I know it sounds all hokey-cliche to say she sees problems as opportunities, and I'm not saying she feels that way about all problems always and ever, but in general, my mom likes challenges. So she had never considered that there might be anything offensive about "I challenge you."
To me, though, there definitely is something deeply offensive about that, and ditto its stronger, more bullying cousin, "Shame on you." Who's anybody to be running around putting shame on people? Especially to be putting it specifically on friends? I can object to that even before we ever get around to the power dynamics, to noting that it's a white Christian male trying to shame all Falwell's favorite targets on a feminist blog.
It was a bad, bad move, one destined to end in being called a sanctimonious prick. And I made a bad, bad move by reacting to only one side of the story.
All comment buttons should read "Think before you post." I have to do better about remembering that.