The Latest (Un-?)Reasonable Accommodation

It seems like a headline from The Onion, the American satirical website that daily tests our credulity, but it’s real: “U.K. student union bans applause in favour of ‘jazz hands’ because clapping could ‘trigger anxiety.’”

Surely, one thinks, we have gone ‘way too far by now in accommodating every possible snowflake on our university campuses. Surely, one harrumphs, if someone can’t attend a public event at which applause will occur, one should stay home and let one’s neighbours enjoy themselves in the time-honoured way.

Surely, one is tempted to seethe, we’ve bent over backwards for all those complainers, and it’s time to get things back to normal.

It’s not just supporters of the likes of Donald Trump who feel this way. Sensible people and properly run organizations must guard against the “victim’s veto,” the dissenting voice that, if fully indulged, will keep grinding everything to a halt as every possible criticism is considered and every conceivable grievance is acknowledged.

Churches and governments, universities and businesses, each have to find an appropriate balance between heeding dissident voices and proceeding with action, between honouring minorities and getting things done in a reasonable time and in a reasonable way.

Often, of course, we’ll do things better, for everyone concerned, if we will listen to those voices and honour those minorities. Creative alternatives often arise on the margins, and the common good can be advanced by welcoming marginal perspectives.

Often, furthermore, it’s a matter of simple justice, let alone proper compassion, for the majority to give a little on behalf of a minority. As one friend writes in response to this “jazz hands” ruling, “If it helps even one student, autistic or otherwise, be able to participate in events with their student body because they are no longer excluded due to their sensory issues, I think it’s a great idea. We wouldn’t have a whole university event inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair.”

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