I believe in telling it like it is.
This is often the explanation, or excuse if you will, given by people for being insulting about someone or somewhere they feel superior to. “What’s wrong with the President saying that some immigrants come from shit-hole countries? Some of these countries are shit-holes.”
My answer is that it’s always a bad idea to insult people or places, because being insulting is the act of a dick. And trying to excuse it by saying that you are just voicing your opinion doesn’t make you less of a dick. It just makes you a dick who is proud of being a dick.
Let me explain why I think it’s a bad idea to be a dick in this particular way. Let’s start by looking at things from the other direction. In my opinion, Paris is not a shit-hole, and I believe many people will agree. To me it is a beautiful, dynamic, exciting city, full of culture and art and life. To an immigrant living in the Banlieue or suburbs, though, it might not be so good. They are out of work, out of money and out of place. To them, Paris is a shit-hole.
Of a beautiful city like Paris, I suppose it’s fair to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Which means that shit-hole is in the eye of the beholder, too. And that’s just the point. it isn’t Paris, or Haiti or You or me that are beautiful or ugly, or shitty; it’s the viewer’s opinion. Paris is not beautiful because I say it is. I am not ugly because you say so. It is our choice to see beauty in something or not. Because for every American who thinks that developing countries are shitholes, there are foreigners who think the USA sucks.
I think realizing this simple truth is very important: that it’s not the thing, it’s the viewer’s opinion, prejudice, or taste that determines matter of beauty. Nothing is beautiful or ugly, pure or shitty, but our thinking makes it so. There is no accounting for taste, we say. So the important part of the phrase “I think Paris is a shit-hole,” isn’t “Paris,” or “shit-hole,” but “I think.” Because this fact invites us to examine why we think that. To find out more. Not to rely on prejudices. And to remember that people have opinions about us, too. Based on nothing more than…. their opinions?
Now, we all like to hear other’s good opinions about ourselves, and we don’t like being insulted. So, Golden Rule time again: don’t do it if you don’t like getting it back. Don’t be a dick.
Especially if your bad opinions show you to be a bigot, as in the case of “shithole countries.”
“But wouldn’t you rather have a bigot speak his mind, than hide behind honeyed words?” someone asked me. Well, honestly, no.
First of all, it’s pretty easy to find out if a person is prejudiced anyway. And I’d rather give people the benefit of the doubt when possible. But more important, it encourages other people to be bigoted, because they think it’s acceptable to say dickish things. And more than that, people who stop themselves from saying insulting things are at least thinking about the fact that what they are thinking is insulting. At some level they know they are being a dick. And that can lead to rethinking the whole issue.
Because, after all, why do people call each other names? Why do dicks run other countries down? Because it makes them feel better about themselves. Because there is always a touch of “At least I’m not YOU. At least I don’t come from there.” And because I can look down on you, that makes me just a tiny bit better. It’s all ego. And the individual who says that he is just speaking his mind is bragging about putting someone down. He is making a point of being a dick, because it makes him better than…. well, someone from a shit-hole. But here’s the thing. You don’t have to do that. We are all just as good and just as bad as we are. Other people don’t come into it.
When my second daughter was about eleven, (And therefor much wiser than her forty-something dad,) she caught me shouting and swearing at the cats for leaving paw prints on the countertop. “If you call them bad names, you just make it worse,” She said, “But if you say sweetie-pie, or fluffy-kins, you can’t be so angry.” She was right. It’s really hard to curse out “Fluffy-face Cotton-paws.” In fact, it’s pretty near impossible to get angry at all under those constraints.
It didn’t stop the cats from walking on the countertop, of course, but then, shouting didn’t either. And I did remember that cats are just cats, and it was I who had the problem with the counter being dirty, not them. Cats are going to stay cats, no matter what I think about it.
And Africa will stay Africa.
But dicks aren’t necessarily going to be dicks. Because I think any one of us can do dickish things. And all of us can avoid doing those same things. The difference between a dick or not is not what you are, but what you do. And we all can make that choice. Because you know what is a real shit-hole?
A country full of dicks.
The image is of Mumbai, the richest city in India. And it has slums, too.