Do I Offend You?

Stephen fry

I recently watched the 2006 programme ‘Don’t Get Me Started: What’s So Wrong About Blasphemy?‘ on YouTube and was immediately reminded of Stephen Fry’s hilarious quote on respecting and offending religious beliefs. But the thing is, I don’t know what it means to actually offend someone. I understand that to intentionally upset and annoy is unnecessary and perhaps cruel, but what is the distinction between being annoyed and being offended? Is it at the top of an emotional hierarchy or is it a calculated choice?

Let’s get the definition to start off with. To offend is to ‘cause to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful’ according to the dictionary, so being offended is an emotional response. But why is this emotion given more weight than others?

This could be because this emotion is often brought up during meaningful debates (e.g. religion), which automatically adds a level of seriousness to it. You could say that being offended is a lazy way of arguing a point as, if you tell someone they are offending you or hurting you on purpose, they quickly become the arsehole of the situation. The offended party is subsequently the innocent victim and the debate sides with them.

It is easy to stop an argument in its tracks by adding an emotional response as no one can argue reasonably against a feeling. Because you can’t argue back, the offended win the argument. With this in mind, by halting discourse on purpose in order to stop an opinion from being voiced, you could possibly say that being offended is a form of censorship. As censorship is a form of power struggle, being offended by something is actually an aggressive and unfair approach to getting your own way.

And now we’re in a grey territory. Is both offending someone and being offended a form of intimidation? Can both stances be a form of attack? Who would be right or wrong in this sort of situation?

What it all boils down to is having good enough debating skills not to have to resort to the ‘o’ word in the first place. To offend or be offended is like doing a foul move in one of those sports games or giving a red card to Wayne Rooney (I totally understand sports metaphors).

We need to stop giving this word so much significance and learn that stopping an argument is not necessarily winning it. I believ  schools should not only teach about deliberating academic concepts, but also show how to voice personally forged opinions competently. The art of a good argument needs to be more widely known; how to put forward ideas in a succinct and intelligent way without being cruel, and accepting the opinions of others are all essential elements to becoming a well-rounded human being. Emotion should be a big part of our thoughts and decisions, but offending or being offended should not.

At the end of the day, why should anyone care whether you or I are offended by anything if we can’t explain why?

Offended cat

Emily created Dystopic in July 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. Her debut novel 'These Unnatural Men' was published in 2018.

One thought on “Do I Offend You?”

  1. Within the context of a debate, I think it is fair to say that there is no benefit to pointing out that you’re offended. I think if you detect offensive or pejorative language within discussion that you let them shut themselves down. That is, don’t be the one who assumes (if they’re not deliberately offense it makes you look like a jerk), rather ascertain whether or not their assertion is a deliberately offensive one, whether it is patently untrue (such as “Asians are always better than Whites at maths”), unfalsifiable (“God only exists in your head”) or a value judgment based on fact, skewed or otherwise (“religious people are statistically more likely to have a lower IQ – this matters for some reason”). There are other deliberately offensive arguments, of course, those are just examples. If we make assumptions about what they make, we build a hurdle made of straw around ourselves and look foolish. If we let an individual explain an apparently offensive argument, we are handing them stones and mortar and letting them reach a conclusion. If it was deliberately offensive (invariably stupid) then then they will build a brick wall around themselves until they’ve walled themselves in to a poor argument that they must defeat in and smash down, causing it to fall on them and hurt, primarily, their pride and ego. If, however, their argument contained something the other side found offensive but was in itself not cruel, a bridge between the parties can be built, as long as the defending party can explain what they meant by their apparently offensive comment. Rhetoric is a powerful tool. It stops us looking like we know what we’re talking about when in fact we can’t read minds, rather it demands the other side to elaborate, which is a far kinder and more successful way to argue.

    In day to day life, however, who cares? I would defend a person’s right to be offended insofar as it results in nothing worse than peaceful protest (if it is a civil affair). Likewise, I don’t think anyone has the right to tell another person they are not allowed to be offended, which many (who make offensive comments) seem to verge on at times. Freedom of speech protects a person from intervention by the government, it doesn’t protect a person from criticism of their peers or any member of the public. Equally, a person has a right to criticize and be offended, but they do not have a right to silence a person due to perceived offensiveness. If it is against the law (hate speech) this is a different matter. But if someone says something churlish like “that hawai’ian shirt makes you look like a fat American who frequents Las Vegas, or a homosexual” then the best response is no response. Possibly “grow up”, but better still to demonstrate that their remark is neither wanted nor warrants a conversation.

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