“As THIS sort of person, THAT offends me…”

A couple of weeks ago I chronicled my boredom with media, with our talking-head culture, and most particularly with the predictability of what passes for punditry, these days. Most of the people to whom we give willing (or unwilling) access to our ears and our time have become so incapable of thinking beyond their programming or of moving away from their preferred scripts, that there often seems little reason to turn on the news, pick up a paper or even check a combox. We all know what everyone is going to say, all the time.

I’m not suggesting I am not included in that. I’ll bet you often know what I am going to say, before I say it, and you even stop over here because you expect me to validate your own thoughts.

Amid all the predictability, though, nothing bores me more than the phrase “that offends me,” uttered by a person who decides to define himself (or herself) according to some aspect of that self — as a fat person, a thin person, a vegetarian person, a meat-loving person, a Christian person, an atheist — and then presumes to “take offense” at things, on behalf of all the people in the world who share some form of that defining characteristic.

A too-quick choice to be offended by something (and it is a choice) tells me a couple of things about a person: first, that he feels so uncertain of who he is that he must declare and define himself as “thus” or “such” in order to establish a reference marker — a stake that is meant as much for himself as for the rest of us.

Me = this sort of person.

When you know who you are, you don’t have to spell it out for others.

Second: a death-grip on an identifier, used in conjunction with feather-ruffled offense-taking, tells me that this person is a passive aggressive — someone so weak that he needs to resort to the tyranny of “shut up” because he cannot trust his ideas or arguments to hold up under debate. Rather than subject himself to a debate he knows he cannot win, he declares himself “offended” and usually demands future silence on the issue and a public “apology” (also tiresome!) that is meant to warn-off others from attempting to address it.

It is certainly a kind of tyranny; increasingly, for me, the boring kind. I don’t remember who said it first but I know someone has said that we can have freedom of speech or we can have freedom from being offended, but we can’t have both.

About thirty years ago one of my cousins, a novice within a religious order, brought some of his confreres to a family summer party. One of the friars chose to take offense at some trivial chatter, and presumed to stand there and do it “as a Religious of the Roman Catholic church!”

To which my cousin, walking by, responded, “oh, lah-di-fecking-dah, so am I” and shoved him into the pool.

Five years later, one of those two was ordained (and remains) a very happy, humbly productive priest and religious of the Roman Catholic church.

Part of his perseverance, I expect, comes from always having known who he is and, more importantly, that who he is matters much less than who he serves — the savior who never felt the need to say, that “as a Nazorean; as a Jew; as a carpenter; as a man; as a descendent of David; as a King” he took offense at anything, and who never demanded an apology, except as might be made to Almighty God.

Jesus, of course, also knew who he was, and he is the complete opposite of all that is passive-aggressive or tyrannical. Plus, he is never boring.

Sometimes, when I get full of myself and my own scripts and opinions — or when I choose to be offended, or to decry some insult — I imagine Jesus, walking by me with his wounds ever-visible, rolling his eyes and saying, “oh, lah-di-fecking-dah, Lizzie…lah-di-fecking dah,” and then shoving me into the pool to help reset my perspective.

It’s the little mortifications we consent to that help us learn who we are, and remind us who we serve.

Tim Dalrymple
has thoughts on “The I’m Offended Game, over on the Evangelical Portal, and he shares a personal story re a highly offended woman:

The next time I saw her, I actually did apologize for offending her, but this clearly did not satisfy her. She was going to be offended until I agreed with her in full. I immediately hated myself for apologizing for speaking the truth — and it made clear to me that there would be no satisfying this kind of person.

That’s really what it comes down to. The sort of offense-taking we’re writing about is not meant to get your apology, it’s meant to effect your surrender.

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About Elizabeth Scalia