T rig ger warning: personal opinion, nuance, sarcasm.
Some exceptionally fortunate turkey enjoyed a presidential pardon last week — a spared sacrifice to justify eating the rest of his kind and cleanse us American omnivores of our collective guilt. How, you ask, did such a silly and self-righteous ritual ever catch on? But we digress.
About a week before our fowl friend’s life was spared, another biped, this one featherless, did catch the axe. His crime? Having a sense of humor — specifically, writing an opinion piece in the conservative Michigan Review satirizing social justice warriors and privilege fever on college campuses.
Rather than take his jibe in stride, his editors at the University of Michigan’s official campus paper, The Michigan Daily — a different paper — suspended his column for having created a “hostile environment.” It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
Even those of us who find oppression abhorrent and care deeply about social issues should be able to differentiate between hate speech and satire. The columnist was criticizing a political perspective (or lack thereof). God forbid he should do so with wit in his arsenal.
Getting offended is so commonplace these days that we practically fail to notice it. Some poor turkey dares to say something unpopular, this one doomed not to be pardoned. We get mad. We vent to our blogs. The sun rises. AirPennNet crashes.
We are thick of heart but thin of skin. Our generation is shockproof, except for when it comes to ideas. The public forum is more tolerant of four-letter words than ever before, but say something intellectually flammable and shit hits the fan.
Obviously, there are times when taking offense is justified. Someone who speaks with clear intent to demean or intimidate forfeits the right to be listened to. Slurs, for instance, are acts of hostility, rather than attempts at dialogue, and it’s appropriate to condemn or ignore them.
But taking offense is also used as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Stephen Fry called it “no more than a whine,” no better than any other thought-terminating cliche. Much like the accusation of privilege, personal offense is sometimes justified. Other times, its only function is to try to invalidate someone’s point of view.
“That’s offensive” is neither productive nor dignified. You might complain that you’re offended, but what I hear is that I should stop expressing my beliefs because you lack the emotional fortitude to handle seeing things through other people’s eyes. If you can’t help reacting to disagreement with personal insult, aren’t you placing your own hypersensitivity above the rights of others to express themselves? Being able to argue dispassionately is a sign of intelligence and maturity; getting offended too easily is a sign of selfishness.
If something is disagreeable or plain wrong, explain why. If something is truly offensive, explain why. That raw emotion underlies many of our debates about meaningful issues doesn’t make it a legitimate means of changing minds. Intuitive reflexes are not reasons.
If anything, we should welcome the feeling of offense as a blessing in disguise. Think of Carl Jung’s advice that “everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” We might hold ourselves to certain beliefs de jure, but when the opinions of others rile us up, we get a glimpse into how we really feel about things below the surface.
I’m not saying that we should go out of our way to feel offended. Rather, we should celebrate those moments when our emotion and reasoning come into conflict. Just as a skinned knee can be a blessing for growing children, so can the occasional skinned ego keep us keen to the landscape of perspectives in which we find ourselves.
That’s the beauty of free speech: Every now and then, people might actually prompt us to rethink, revise or even reinforce our ideas. Only by engaging them and allowing our biases to emerge can we really get a handle on what we believe.
The next time someone offends you, be happy for the chance to unearth your own attitudes — to ask yourself why you feel the way you do and how that informs what you ought to believe moving forward.
Talk about something to be thankful for.
Jonathan Iwry is a 2014 College graduate from Potomac, MD. His email address is email@example.com. "The Faithless Quaker" appears every Monday.Comments powered by Disqus
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