Before you start reading this understand, it has little to do with barbecue, cooking or any products used in those endeavors. Also, please understand (as stated on the warning when you got to this very website) that these thoughts, opinions and what some may consider rhetoric are my own. It doesn’t reflect on anyone but me, myself and I. Heck, the fact that I have to lead off this piece with the above statements is partly why I am compelled to even write it. Frankly, it makes me sad that I have to do so.
Let me digress a bit and cover a little bit of my background so perhaps, if you make to end of this piece and aren't somehow triggered to start a petition to have me removed from the interwebs, you might in some way understand why I feel the way I do. After all, is it not understanding that we are all seeking? At least that is what everyone preaches yet, few seem to achieve without becoming so offended that they try to shout down ideas, comments, thoughts, and lifestyles that they do not agree with.
To heavily paraphrase the first few lines of a Charlie Daniels Band song. I am but a simple man. I have been called a redneck by those who don’t know me. Most are very surprised to find out my actual views when they take time to sit across from me and discuss the world and its current state. I grew up in very rural Western Kentucky. Hearing the “N” word was very commonplace from the generation prior. Heck, I heard it from people who literally preached the Bible and tolerance, grace, forgiveness and not judging. It was clear even at an early age that this didn’t jive with the world I saw. Yes, I only had a few people of color in my super small class, but even with my nieve understanding of the world, I was able to reconcile that no matter how someone looked they fell into two categories for me. They were either good or they weren't and it had not a thing in common with their complexion. In fact, it was the folks who had money who seemed to fall closer to the latter category, the rest of us were just trying to survive and didn’t have time to worry about much else. Our opportunities were generally equally limited, so for me, I was just like them and never felt any different.
I was desperate to escape the smallness of my childhood and rebelled by joining the Navy at 17. I didn’t care where I was going, only that it wasn’t where I was at that moment. My home life was chaos as it was still recovering from my parent's messy divorce. I was trying to figure out how to be a teenager, father figure to my sisters and shield them from some of BS that had become our daily tumultuous life. I honestly wasn’t great at any of that, so I left. I turned 18 on my first Sunday in boot camp. I told no one it was my birthday, I was consoled by being so anonymous, yet so apart of something bigger. For the first time, I was a minority and what I thought or had to say meant nothing. My job was to STFU, do what was asked RIGHT F&*KING NOW and try not to laugh when the drill instructor yelled at me so hard and so close that his spittle landed on my nose. I was a minority in color alone, but we together were a majority. We all were “equally worthless sh&tbags who through divine intervention and the molding of the Navy would be the best f#ckin fighting force ever unleashed on the seas of this world” according to the drill instructor. We believed it. We needed to believe it.
Still, to this day don’t think anyone thought I would make it through boot camp and that I would wash out and come back with my hat in my hand to work on a farm or give in and join one of the local unions to do something in the trades. They believed it. They needed to believe it in order for their world to make sense.
While in boot camp Rage Against the Machine released their first album. I still remember listening to Killing in the Name over and over and being equally appalled and enamored. My small town brain still having a hard time hearing “F&CK YOU, I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME” repeatedly yelled, but the raw emotion of it fitting so perfectly with the angst of boot camp and the sentiment and resentment I held in my core for the things still happening at home. I still don’t know exactly why Rage hit me that way, I listened to A LOT of hardcore rap back home, in fact I listened to more rap than anything else and would have listed Ice Cube as my favorite artist then (and now for that matter). It was just something in the angst that RATM captured and just fit so well in that moment for me.
After boot camp, I was sent to Virginia Beach where I took my advanced training to become an Intelligence Specialist. I loved it. I was good at it. It might be the first thing I did that I was genuinely good at. It was the first thing I wanted to be great at. I was mixed in with every kind of person from every background you could imagine. We all were there just to learn and serve our country. We learned everything from the range of various weapons systems to the geopolitical state of every country you could think of. I studied every culture I could. I wanted to really learn the “why” behind them, I wanted to understand their motivations and genuinely held them all in such high regard even though I understood there was a stark dichotomy as to why I had to learn so much about them. I had to reconcile that somewhere out there, there was another me studying America in the same way in hopes of ending my life. Whether this was the literal truth or not, it was understood just the same. It was here that I had to learn to compartmentalize my emotions from my rational logic. I had to understand that I was not the most important piece of the equation always. How “I” felt didn’t matter to the mission or the end result. What “I” thought personally didn’t matter. In hindsight, this might have been the most important lesson of my life.
This has shaped just about everything good and bad in my life from that point on. Because of this I am almost never offended or care what it is that you do. I accept you are pursuing your version of happiness just as I am. Sometimes those things are going to collide, how we reconcile those trespasses are what matters, not that we collided in the first place. That is the positive of learning to do this.
The negative is that I can disconnect from literally any situation emotionally. I flip the switch and it's like closing a door. This isn't the best for close friends and family, unfortunately. Self-preservation and my ability to move on to the next mission are subconsciously always the motivator even when I try to avoid this. It is just so ingrained in me at this point. Going to the Persian Gulf twice and supporting various other missions and losing my closest friends are responsible for this galvanization. This isn’t meant to be listed as an excuse, but rather just things that happen.
Given this construct of my being, I now find it completely odd when people are genuinely outraged or offended. I do use “genuinely” very tongue in cheek here as I don’t think most people have the emotional breadth and scope to understand true outrage or be that genuine frankly. Go to war a time or two, visit true third world countries, spend time seeking those less fortunate and helping them even when they swear hatred toward you. You will then understand outrage and offense.
It just doesn’t make sense at my core. If you don’t like what you have said or something you have done, I shrug my shoulders and opt to vote with my attention and dollars. I just don’t give it attention or I opt not to buy or support your cause. It’s literally that simple to me. You are allowed to pursue your version of happiness even though I likely consider you an idiot or at a minimum mislead in your understanding of the world. The difference is that I don’t have to rub your nose in it and make a national case to prove it.
The world we live in now is one where if you are offended then you must find others who are outraged in an effort to band together to shout down the offender. The world we used to live in, the one I fought for and served, there was at least a recourse, a debate and you were still allowed to work, live and potentially prosper even if we disagreed. The people in the world at large understood that all you can do is make your case and hope the offending party sees the light and maybe with enough genuine discourse while breaking bread people would likely change over time. There wasn’t a need to make sure they never worked again or were somehow barred from doing certain events.
A few cases in particular spring to mind. The most recent is the outrage I have seen from Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special Sticks and Stones. If you are a Chappelle fan you know his brand of comedy is shining a light on the outrageous and making light of it. Howard Stern and many others have made careers of such things. I watched Chappelle’s latest offering and yeah he pushes some serious buttons, but where some are offended I think what is going on most is that people don’t like the forced self-reflection Chappelle so powerfully brings to bear. So while the “me too” movement folks are busy shouting him down, I think they of all organizations should be taking in the lesson that is skillfully laid out on stage. If we have freedom or liberty at all then we also must accept that includes the right to tell people things they do not want to or are uncomfortable hearing.
Want another example, and yes this one keeps coming up. How many times have cake makers been hauled into court for not wanting to make a cake for various people? Let’s be clear here, I don’t have anything against LGBT people, but if the roles were reversed and I went to a gay or lesbian baker and asked for a cake declaring my heterosexual love / relationship and they said “no they didn’t believe in that” then I would find another baker….not a lawyer or a Facebook posse to publicly shame them. See I have to leave room for my beliefs and theirs. They are not required to do anything just because I have money. They are a private business and I am a private citizen. Beyond all of that why would I want to force anyone to create something? Why would I expect they did their best work? It just doesn’t add up to me. But instead of just finding another baker people would rather litigate their beliefs to prove they are right or beat a person or company into submission in the court of public opinion.
I have said many things flippantly and in passing that was meant to be mildly funny and snarky and they have been taken out of context. I called them like they were and from my point of view. I’ve seen those very same things sent to my sponsors, employers, etc in an attempt to extort them into some action on behalf of some group that “might” be offended. At this point, it’s getting comical and frankly sad. If you have to envoke some group to those who you think control my money then you’ve already lost the debate in my mind. If you want to have a genuine conversation about things I will always be all ears. I accept that 50% of the conclusions I come to, the decisions I make and the opinions I have are likely wrong. I have to leave that big of a gap available because I accept I am but one person who is comprised only of my experiences and that leaves a lot to be desired.
At the end of the day, all of these weakly disguised shout-downs are only designed to fan the flames of outrage and are costly. They cost us our freedom first and foremost. We no longer can speak freely. We no longer are allowed to just be a person who might be wrong, but with some exposure could change their ways. All of this fire and ire we are constantly exposed to just makes us rigid, hard and uncompromising. We are now afraid to speak plainly and openly about our thoughts, our fears, and our needs because it may cost us our careers or worse. What we need most in this world is compromise, understanding and a hardy debate where we can agree to disagree at the end but still respect the person opposite of us when its all over.
The fire has to be quenched in the water of well thought and spoken responses. The shout down has to be overshadowed by the quiet voice of reason and acceptance. The call for the destruction of individuals and companies has to be rescinded in favor of a plea for love and understanding.
I listened to a recent podcast by Joe Rogan where Penn Gillette was the guest. I am a big fan of Penn. Not for the reasons, you would guess, he is, of course, a brilliant magician and artist. He and I differ on more opinions than we agree as a general statement, but the reason I truly am a fan of his is simple. He is always measured and well thought and studied in every response he gives. He didn’t go to college unless you count clown school, yet he studies constantly in an effort to gain a better understanding of the world he lives in. His measured and studious responses make him one of my favorite people to listen to in interviews. This has made me consider his point of view 100 fold more than anyone who shouts someone down. To me, he is more of a scholar than any professor you can likely name. Yet, he and I disagree on many things, but I would list him at the top of any list of those people I hold in high regard.
There is a cost associated with being offended folks. The question I pose to you is…… Is it worth your time to truly be offended or is it better that you move toward a higher calling and understanding of the world? I'll wait here for you to make your decision :)
Love, Peace and Pork Grease Friends. Shane