We shouldn’t feel the need to be protected from our feelings. Now this isn’t me advocating malicious intent or bullying, such things are wrong and should be condemned without exception. I’m talking about people who seem to look for ways to be offended. Are your presuppositions and beliefs challenged? Does that hurt your feelings? Well maybe then it is time to either understand better why you hold those beliefs or hold them up to scrutiny and test them.
There is a sensitivity to feelings in recent years. If someone’s offended it is earth-shattering and one of the worst crimes against humanity. A book’s job isn’t to protect you against your feelings. This is true of fiction and non-fiction, and yes history.
There is a recent attempt to vilify historical figures in America. Yes, they were flawed, deeply flawed and almost all of them did bad things. Guess what, you did too and so do I, we are human. I may not be a raging racist, but I do have a temper which has led me to regret my actions more than once. Yes, I know that is a rather weak analogy, but the point is that all people are flawed, even those who did great and courageous things. No hero is flawless, real or imaginary.
Now does this mean those great and courageous things make up for or wipe clean the evil they committed? Not at all! Evil is evil and that’s that. It’s pretty simple. However, that doesn’t mean we should see them as all-bad either. After all, throughout the overwhelming majority of human history pretty much everyone was racist. Current revelations about race are just that, modern. That doesn’t make them less true and I’m not advocating moral relevancy, but the fact remains that looking at folks from the 15th-20th centuries through modern lenses is not getting the whole picture.
People sometimes look too deeply into fiction too, taking character’s actions as reflections on what the author really believes. Mark Twain’s books have trigger warnings in certain contexts or are outright banned. Yes, racial slurs are in his books, but that doesn’t mean he was promoting racism, he was giving an accurate depiction of the times. Stephen King’s novels have racial and homophobic slurs in them, but I doubt anyone would accuse him of bigotry.
We need to stop being afraid of getting our feelings hurt (again, with the exception of malevolent intent). It’s time to grow thicker skins and not try to rack up victim points, or worse to cower away from any challenges to your presuppositions and not learn anything from history or literature.