COLUMN: Living in the ‘age of sensitivity’

The times we’re living are considerably more empathetic than they once were. Is this change a strength or weakness to us when it comes to social progression?

Sofi Zeman is a first-year journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about government and politics.

According to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, the world we’re living in now is much kinder than the one that past generations grew up with. As times have changed, so have our individual outlooks on the world. While some would regard this shift as a step toward encouraging positivity within our culture, others feel that a society built on the foundation of sensitivity is anything but productive. Has our world become too delicate to handle?

The lack of competition in most environments is often cited to gear us in a direction of increased empathy. Today, we see a lot less clash in the developmental stages of youth.We now have initiatives that provoke equality on multiple fronts. Title IX now provides equal funding for boys and girls sports, as well as ensures that no student athlete is discriminated on the basis of sex. In order to maintain high morale, many school systems try to keep a sense of equality within their student body. For this reason, we see a lot more participation awards in sports and beyond. Out of fear of hurting any and all feelings, institutions these days love to build the “everyone's a winner” mentality. The primary concern is that a surplus in useless validation often results in the depletion of competitive drive. In other words, some are concerned that young adults living in this era will likely put forth less effort in the working world after constantly being told that no matter what they do, they’re a winner.

Another argument is that we’ve come to a point that our tolerance for humor is now washed over with this hypersensitivity. This one is a bit tricky, considering that television comedy today is definitely raunchier than it was fifty years ago. The primary debate is over the fact that television today is more censored than it was at the turn of the century, or even in the past decade. NBC’s “The Office” is often cited as an example.

This sitcom is beloved by students in Columbia and beyond. While the one-liners and uncomfortable moments of this show were daring for their time, it’s been pointed out that if the show were produced in 2020, it would likely have been deemed too offensive for its jokes that often satirize racial prejudice, workplace harassment and homophobia. It’s clear that this show wouldn’t have survived in today’s social climate.

The weight that technology carries for today’s youth is often cited as a source of social weakness as well. While some see this form of innovation as a primary source for progress, others feel that our dependency on using devices to solve our problems inevitably prevents us from picking up real world skills.

As valid as this argument is, it’s important to see how far we’ve come in the grand scheme of things by utilizing this sensitivity. This shift can be seen through a different lense as a society, becoming aware of the fact that controversy presented in the media and real world has an impact on others. Though this change in perspective takes a little bit of the edge out of our lives, it can also be considered a strength.

Education has evolved in a sensitive matter for the better. A punishment-structured system that was once based strictly on teaching the facts has become an institution that encourages a more friendly learning environment. Today, educators want their students to want to be there. For this very same reason, we see teachers taking more interest in knowledge and character development more than ever before. It’s important to acknowledge that there are still faults in this system. However, a great deal of this change has been for the better.

Through paying attention to the thoughts and feelings of others, we’ve been able to grow considerably over time. The world we call home today is not too hard to acknowledge same sex marriage, a topic that was once unspoken of. We are not so posh as to base any and all opinions on landowning status, gender or the color of our skin. With this in mind, maybe it’s okay to be living in times like this. Our world has gone through so much hardship and hatred. If anything, taking away our sense of sensitivity and empathy is a step in the opposite direction.

Yes, there are levels of sensitivity that can be excessive at times. Many could benefit well from assessing a situation they’re in before instantly deciding that they’re offended. However, we’re at a point in time where people can have their overlooked feelings validated and taken seriously. At times, this can cause issues, it’s true. At the end of the day, aren’t these costs worth the rewards? Taking extra consideration for those around you doesn’t require a lot of effort and has the ability to change lives. Yes, this teaches some that even little effort will be rewarded. It’s unfortunate that there can’t always be a stand alone winner. On the other hand, this constant encouragement also teaches us that petty competition doesn’t really matter when it comes down to it.

Edited by Bryce Kolk |

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