Are We Really Charlie?


I’m not sure if I was more sad, frightened or angry when, yesterday morning, I woke to the news of the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. As happens all too often these days, my thoughts shuddered with “What’s this world coming to?” and “Just how cruel/closed-minded/barbaric can we be?”

Toward the end of the day, I was heartened to see thousands upon thousands of people in Paris and around the world carry signs that said, “Je suis Charlie,” “I am Charlie,” and “We are not afraid”–showing united resolve that we will not let anyone deny us one of our most basic rights, freedom of speech.

But it’s a 2011 quote by the slain Editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo that has most stayed with me. Simple, yet profound, it touches all of us, beyond what happened in Paris. Stephane Charbonnier, (Charb), after the 2011 firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices said:

“The magazine’s cartoons will only shock those who want to be shocked.”

 It brought to mind a mantra many of us grew up with:

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me.

Words, cartoons, photographs, stories–will only hurt/shock those who want to be hurt/shocked. It’s as simple as that. None of those things have mass–they are as thin as air, lighter than a feather, and should be easy to ignore.

But we’ve become too soft. Too sensitive. Too quick to anger. As a result, in a variety of ways, we tell each other to shut up, sometimes commit violent acts, whether it’s about religion, race, politics–whatever. We all do it in varying degrees.

So, if “I am Charlie,” if we are all Charlie, I believe there are two parts to honoring those were were slain:

  1. Yes, we must be fearless with our opinions.
  2. But we must also accept that we think differently from each other, which means we’ll often disagree. Don’t take it personally.
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3 Responses to Are We Really Charlie?

  1. Being fearless with our opinions doesn’t necessarily mean phrasing them to offend the most people possible. I’m not saying a) that the magazine did this or b) that even if they did, this sort of response is appropriate. Disagreement is one thing; being nasty on purpose, another. I think there is much too much “nasty on purpose” rhetoric these days.

    I also think that “words will never harm/hurt me” isn’t really true. Words can cut deeply and leave masses of scars, even if we try not to let them. That’s one reason to choose and use words carefully and lovingly, even when disagreeing vehemently. Another is that if you don’t, you run the very real risk of alienating people on the other side that you’re trying to persuade or with whom you’re trying to discuss issues. My fear today is that for too many on both sides, words are the weapons that push us apart so far that our ears can’t hear and our hearts are pierced.


    • Jan Morrill says:

      I agree, Janet, that being fearless does not mean we should not try to be respectful, and that has often been lost. Especially with social media, shock value plays a big role in how we get our opinions out there, and yes, words can be weapons that “push us so apart so far that our ears can’t hear and our hearts are pierced.”

      But I also think we have become far too sensitive. The “political correctness” of the day has fed that sensitivity and has, I believe, made it more difficult for us to express our opinions.

      Yes, we should be able to express our opinions, and should do so respectfully. But though words definitely can hurt (I’ve certainly been hurt) they only hurt to the extent we let them hurt.

      It takes both sides to communicate effectively, and unfortunately, respect is often absent and oversensitivity is often all too present.

      • I agree with you as well, Jan. We can be overly sensitive and “discussion” is often nasty and deliberately hurtful. Both need to stop. We need to grow thicker skins and also stop trying to find verbal weapons sharp enough to pierce the skins of others.

        I find it depressing that so much disagreement is brought to the lowest possible level by the choice of words and the deliberate choice to insult, which then takes the spotlight off the actual facts and interpretation of them, to personal attack. That derails the entire conversation and only polarizes. I don’t think it helps, at least in the media arena, when so much opinion is now presented as news.

        Blessings on your Friday and have a wonderful weekend!


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