Opinion | America’s obsession with being offended: incorrect usage leads to drama, not debate
Liberty and Justice
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2012 23:04
Merriam-Webster defines “offend” in its transitive verb form as, “to cause to feel vexation or resentment usually by violation of what is proper or fitting.” Macmillan Dictionary defines the transitive verb “offend” as, “to make someone upset and angry by doing or saying something.” However, you would never know this by looking at American society. American society has been obsessed with being offended. Every time you watch the news you are met with dozens of stories of how people are “offended” with what a politician, leader or comedian has said or done.
But are we really “offended” or are we just using the word in substitute of being “upset,” feeling “disrespected” or “disliking” what someone has said? I am not claiming it is impossible to be “offended.” Everyone has experienced instances in their lives when they have truly been offended by something.
I can think of four or five times in my life where I was truly “offended” by something somebody said or did. However, the distinction between “disliking” or “disagreeing” with something and being “offended” by it is a lot more convoluted than it should be. Many comedians and journalists have commented on the abuse of the phrase “offensive.”
American author Fran Lebowitz once said, “being offended is the consequence of leaving ones house.” English actor and comedian Stephen Fry once said, “it’s now very common to hear people say ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights… It’s simply a whine,” and that the phrase ‘I find that offensive,’ “has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.”
I recently saw a clever eCard, which said “Announcing ‘I’m Offended’ is basically telling the world you can’t control your own emotions, so everyone else should do it for you.” I have to say I wholeheartedly agree.
Yes, there are some times when an individual can be “offended” but in our society we consistently abuse the use of the word, which has resulted in diminishing its implications.
Politicians and public leaders are the number one abusers of the word “offended.” If someone says something against him or her, if they say they “disagree” or were “upset” by the statement, nobody would care.
But once they say that they were “offended” the linguistic battle is on! When a public official says they are “offended” it pushes any insecurities with the statement away from the person they were directed at and back to the person who spoke the words.
Instead of responding to the statement, the “target” of the statement can just claim they were horribly offended and push the responsibility back onto the person who spoke the words. In politics, being “offended” is nothing more than a distraction. Americans are so on guard for things that may “offend” them. Especially things that target the social groups they associate with.
We seek comfort in identifying with various social groups (our religion, political party, community group) and we feel threatened when other people challenge us on our beliefs or make a joke at the expense of our identity. We shouldn’t be offended - we should start a dialogue.
It almost seems like Americans seek out opportunities to be offended so we can assert our beliefs and ourselves. If you are a confident, secure individual and someone says something you find morally repulsive or something that strikes at the core of your beliefs or identity, try to think of a more intelligent rebuttal than “that’s offensive” and challenge the person on the statement which you disagree with.
Declaring something is “offensive” doesn’t allow a forum for debate or discussion over what someone has said; it simply is a linguistic roadblock that stops the conversation completely. Next time you feel “offended” by something, reflect on it. Are you really “offended?” Have your core beliefs and values been attacked and destroyed unfairly? Or are you offended only because society says you should be?
There are incidents where people can justifiably find offense with a statement or action, but as a society we need to be careful with our use of the word.