On being offended…

I haven’t said much lately.  Instead, I’ve chosen to sit back and observe society and ponder what facilitates our self appreciation and closed mindedness.  Why are we, as a society, so quick to take offense?

Scrolling through social media, it doesn’t take long to find an argument.  Religion.  Gender issues.  Gender identification. Race.  Economics…..just the tip of an endless list of things that cause animosity and alienation.  WHY?  Why do we feel such a need to be right?  Why are people so eager to disregard and disrespect the opinions and feelings of others?  This is not a conversation about ‘facts’.  It is a conversation about perspective and individual truth, and why it seems to fall into basic human nature to hold our own perspective and truth as more valid and thus more important than another’s.

As I ate my lunch Sunday, I listened to a locally recorded NPR show entitled “Your Weekly Constitutional”.  Though often a bit over my head with the legal speak, this week the show was about first amendment rights vs. a person’s right to be offended.  The host was speaking to a law professor from (if I recall correctly) the Air Force Academy regarding the use of offensive language or actions.  As an example, they discussed use of a racially charged N-word.  It is mutually agreed that there is no context for appropriate use of such words in a grade school environment where the setting is one (primarily) of instruction.  As an individual elects to continue their education to college, gaining a bigger world perspective, there are times when such language is called to context – not used AT people – rather used to demonstrate historical perspective, literature, or social commentary.  As they discussed, it is not unusual for such encounters to be prefaced with a group discussion about the discomfort and disrespect associated with such language, and approved exclusion for those who don’t wish to SAY the word.  I experienced this scenario myself in undergrad, and understood the weight of saying such words out of context – and yet still felt uncomfortable saying them in the classroom.  Because I believe in the first amendment, I never gave thought to the actual banning of a word.

On numerous college campuses across our country, this argument is being made.  The speakers went on to discuss campus as a domicile rather than a student’s actual home, the legal verbage around such decision and sadly I had to clock back in before the end of the show, but this made me think.  Why are so many people so easily offended.  I don’t simply mean by that one word, rather by any subject about which someone disagrees with them.  In the last few weeks I have observed the disintegration of lifelong friendships because someone became offended by something that used to simply be a discussion – albeit often heated ones, but a discussion.

I mulled the subject over for the rest of my work day, considering customer complaints and interactions,  discussions with friends, topics on the news….and I came to a working hypothesis.

Human nature.  It is in our nature to want to be right.  What makes you more right than your feelings?? After all, no one can tell you they are wrong.  So you feel something.  Someone else feels something.  You disagree with their notion, and feel as if their viewpoint lessens your own, thus devaluing or disrespecting you.  It is far more personally rewarding to be offended than to disagree and discuss.  Offense is the adult version of a temper tantrum, when the child screams and yells then runs away.  There is no discourse, no conversation, only an unfriend, a block, and a slander.

Our offense enables us to put ourselves ahead of others, even when we are the only ones keeping score.

I know this fixes nothing.  It changes nothing.  It won’t change minds. It won’t change people.  If you disagree with me, that’s okay.  In fact, it’s wonderful.  I won’t be offended.  I’ll be thrilled that you took the time to read and consider.  I only hope that you’ll reconsider before stating your offense.  After all, it’s only my opinion and glad that you have your own.

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