The Compassionate Thing to Do

In the third grade, I was the only Asian kid in my class at Hoben Elementary. Sometimes, I would have conversations like this:

DJ: “Konichiwa!!!!”

Me: “Hi, DJ.”

DJ: “No speekee English. Ching-ching!!! Tofu!! Ka-Powww!!! What did I just say?”

Me: “You said you didn’t understand English and ‘tofu’.”

Please don’t get me wrong: Elementary school, with its naps and snack times and easy friendships, held some of the happiest years of my life. Conversations like that angered me, but I don’t blame DJ or carry some deep grudge. The reasoning is simple: Most of it wasn’t malicious, and it’s just what kids do when they see unlike-Trust me, it happens all over the world.

But as I got older, I noticed people became less inclined to do those bothersome things. In polite company, people don’t greet me with “Konichiwaaa!!!”, and don’t assume that I know Kung-Fu, which is best, as I’d get butt kicked by anyone who does. This “bothersomeness-avoidance”, or sensitivity, applies to lots of other stuff as well. It’s why people now avoid using the n-word, and why kids across the nation are forced to expand their synonyms for “lame” beyond just “gay”. There’s debate over some of the political correctness behind sensitivity, but the crucial point is that sensitivity is actually just that: Sensitivity to another, and his thoughts and opinions.

I can also understand, then, why the Muslim world would be so infuriated by this mosque controversy. After all, the key points made by the proponents of building that community center are entirely correct. Our Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. The land has been bought, the permits have been filed, and the technical details sketched out. In sum: Does Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his congregation of by all fair definition moderate Muslims have the right to build Park51? Absolutely. But should they?

William Kristol in the Weekly Standard cites the prominent Muslim broadcaster

Once we recognize the sensitivity argument for what it is—an appeal to feelings we can’t morally justify—there’s no good reason why the Islamic center shouldn’t be built at its planned site, in the neighborhood where its imam already preaches and its members work and congregate.”

He misses the point. Sensitivity isn’t about the logicality of using tact; it’s about you caring enough about that person that you’d use it anyways. Let’s get real here: How many unreasonable emotions would still be ameliorated and how many corresponding relationships would still benefit from the tact born of kindness? I don’t think it’s particularly reasonable that in many situations I could get away with telling Asian jokes and friends of other ethnicities, due to some reason or another, can’t. But I still appreciate their sensitivity when they avoid telling those jokes because technically unreasonable or not my feelings may be, their willingness to not exercise some of their freedom shows a certain respect, care, and friendship.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has in making that choice. It says a lot about our nation that

 — Ke Ding