Every now and then a comment or meme will cross my social media feeds to the effect that people these days are just too easily offended.
Usually the implication is that through some sort of liberal/progressive snowflake conspiracy, America is being “wussified” to the extent that we’ve all become a bunch of thin-skinned children who just can’t take a joke.
The argument usually goes something like this:
“Enough of this PC (politically correct) crap! You can’t say anything anymore without somebody getting offended! People just need to get over themselves!”
And every time I see it, I want to ask, “Who did you piss off? And why are you so pissed off that they didn’t like you pissing them off?”
It seems to me that what these people are really saying is that they’re offended at being called out for offending people.
But maybe instead of getting upset that people seem offended by things we say and do, we should…I don’t know…try to stop offending people!
To be fair, I don’t think most people want to be deliberately offensive.
I think that underneath a lot of this sentiment is a tension that has less to do with a desire to be offensive than with the evolving social mores that come from the fact that we are becoming more aware of other people’s circumstances.
The information revolution that we’re in the midst of has given a lot of people a voice in society that they traditionally haven’t had. People who have never been able to speak up for themselves before (or who did, but weren’t heard), now have a platform they’ve never enjoyed.
The playing field is being leveled. The sand under our feet is shifting.
That’s change. And for a lot of people, change—any change—is uncomfortable.
Especially if you’ve always been in the place of privilege and influence, and now all of a sudden people whose experience is radically different from your own seem to have the whacky idea that their context is as legitimate as yours.
Listen…I’m a 56-year-old, white, straight, cis-gendered male. I grew up in middle-class America in a very traditional model of the nuclear family.
My demographic has identified itself as the societal norm for so long we think it was engraved on the tablets at Mt. Sinai. Perhaps outside of my Appalachian heritage (and maybe the occasional “OK boomer”) there’s almost nothing anyone can say to offend me because of my life circumstances.
But as I become more aware of other people’s life experiences, it seems to me that I should try harder to break old assumptions, old thought patterns, and old speech habits that just might be hurtful to them.
Instead of getting ticked off that I can’t just keep saying the same old things I grew up saying without offending someone, I should genuinely try to hear them, see them, and respect them by not saying offensive things.
WWJD – Who Would Jesus Dignify?
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, he speaks pretty directly to the phenomenon of how we disrespect and dehumanize other people by the things we think, say, and do.
And he does it by acknowledging that while things have “always been” a certain way, that way is actually harmful to other human beings—other children of God—created in the same image and likeness of God as all the rest of us.
When Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22a), he’s not being politically correct.
He’s saying that if you even allow yourself to think of harming someone else, you have already judged them in your own mind to be less worthy than you of God’s love and grace.
When he says, “You have heard that it was said, don’t commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at another lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28), he’s saying that the minute we concoct a fantasy in our minds about another person, we have robbed them of their humanity.
We’ve made them an object of our desire rather than a co-equal heir of God’s promise of abundant and eternal life.
And don’t even get me started on that whole bit about loving our enemies.
So maybe let’s drop the sanctimony, shall we? Maybe let’s not get so offended when people take offense at our offensiveness.
Maybe let’s try to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Let’s try to understand that they just might have experiences in life that have left deep scars that they don’t need to hear people joking about.
Let’s ditch our comfort and try some compassion instead.
“God makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. […] Therefore, just as God is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete”Matt. 5:45b, 48 (my paraphrase).