You can tell how old people are by the language they use. I’m certain no one under the age of 50 uses the word “groovy” with any regularity. For awhile in the late 1990s and early 2000s things were “krunk.” I’m still not exactly sure what that meant, but it sounded good and you were cool for a few minutes if you were able to fit it into a sentence successfully. Speaking of “cool”, there’s another one. I digress.
The newest monikers this year seem to be calling people Karens and Kens. The great fountain of Wikipedia defines Karen as “a pejorative term used in the United States and other English-speaking countries for a woman perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary.” Ken seems to be the same for men, but there have been other names thrown out as examples, so you might have heard something different.
I’ve never been a big fan of labels. Labels often take on their own meaning and so they don’t accurately describe the behavior. Everyone pictures someone in their head and that mental picture is different for everyone. We saw this a few years ago with the renewed emphasis on bullying. As a former counselor and as someone interested in mental health, I generally applaud anything that empowers people, but we quickly descended into calling everything bullying until it ceased to have any real meaning.
It finally came to a head for me when my daughter came home from school on consecutive days and said someone was bullying her. On both occasions we asked her to tell us what actually happened. What she described wasn’t bullying. I had to do the same thing when I worked as a counselor. Describe the behavior without attaching the label. Often times I don’t think the word means what people seem to think it means.
We fast forward to the Karens. Karen was originally a term meant to simplify a description of a woman (almost exclusively white) that would loudly complain about things that no one else really complains about. The implication is that they had so much privilege that they had extra time on their hands for the complaint. As you might suspect, this was done as a way to own (another relatively new term) the opposition in quick fashion. Don’t waste time describing bad behavior. Just come up with a name that encompasses the behavior.
I’m admittedly old and don’t pay too much attention to cultural trends. The first time I remember hearing the term was when a white woman hadn’t leashed her dog. A black man asked her to leash the dog and she angrily threatened to call the police on him. That happened over the summer. I’m almost certain the term is older than that, but like I said. I’m barely paying attention.
The term snowflake has been around for awhile. It was originally a term conservatives used to poke fun at liberals that got offended at something that was racist, sexist, or generally culturally insensitive. It has become so pejorative that it almost always has the word “liberal” preceding it. Again, the online dictionary defines snowflake as “an overly sensitive or easily offended person, or one who believes they are entitled to special treatment on account of their supposedly unique characteristics.“
So, what is the point of all this? Simply put, a number of people have perfected what some would lovingly call the “self-own.” Again, I love these new terms. The self-own happens when someone throws around one of these terms all the while exhibiting the very behavior they are prescribing to someone else. This is when we coined the phrase, “it takes one to know one” as kids. Sadly, that phrase has gone out of style.
We see this everyday from people that complain about politically correct behavior. They complain when they are asked to take a diversity sensitivity training. They complain when anyone brings up the idea of systemic racism. They complain when someone points out that there is a thing called “white privilege.” They complain and they are angry. So, who is exactly being the snowflake here?
The same thing happened yesterday on social media. Someone was describing something that had happened to them. They were so offended. Someone else chimed in and called it a battle between that person and a Karen. Somehow, I think they missed the point of what a Karen actually was. I’d go into specifics, but I think all of us can imagine such a situation. Heck, there are moments when we might exhibit those same behaviors without realizing it.
This is why labels like Karen, snowflake, and bully have so little meaning these days. Everyone immediately pictures someone in their head for all three. The fun part comes when we imagine someone that exhibits those characteristics simultaneously. We have to admit that there is a lot of overlap there. Yet, we have all been a Karen (or Ken), a snowflake, and many of us even a bully at some point in our lives. Yet, use any of those terms and most of us will immediately become defensive. If you call out the actual behavior we might be more receptive.