“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.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Miss Marple

    One of my struggles is realizing Jesus is a person, not a remote figure. For some reason, the end of your column really helped me with this. Thanks, Anchoress!

  • kevin

    The DSM-III-R stated in 1987 that passive aggressive disorder is typified by among other things “fail[ing] to do the laundry or to stock the kitchen with food because of procrastination and dawdling.”

    A co-worker of mine was recently accused of being passive-aggressive by a client. I observed that the client had been relentlessly obnoxious, verbally abusive, overly-sensitive, and insulting toward the co-worker for months. When my co-worker had finally exhausted the limits of his patience and read him the riot act, the response was “you’re a passive aggressive.” comical.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    Jesus never had to deal with the internet. :-p (in case someone misinterprets, I’m kidding)

  • Greg

    Thank you for this!

  • Mizbish

    Did you nail this! “I am offended” is the biggest turn-off in the world – kind of like wearing a sign on your back that says “Loser! Can’t deal with life’s realities! Steer clear.” We all need to get over ourselves and move on. And you’re so right to note that taking offense is a choice.

    Though I’m not Catholic, I love your blog and have read it for years. Thank you.

  • http://www.barefootandpregnantblog.blogspot.com Calah

    I love this post. I think I’m going to bookmark it for future reference every time I feel myself being “offended.” I love the image of Jesus shoving me into a pool…something I undoubtedly need. Like, daily.

  • David K. Monroe

    What’s even worse is when people seek to correct others not because they are a member of an Officially Aggrieved Group, but they do so on behalf of others why may be a member of an Officially Aggrieved Group. “I wasn’t personally offended, but my friend who’s a _____ person would be, so you better not use that word.” Basically it’s a way for people to exercise their inner totalitarian and control the speech of strangers without regard to context or intention. People these days are hungry for coercive speech control and eager to say they are responsible for it.

  • Andrea

    I read a journalist recently talk about how “having your comment found offensive by another is the only thing society sees as a sin anymore” which strikes me as the correlation to what you’re saying. Everyone is offended by everything, because the mere existence of people who aren’t completely identical to ourselves is too terrible to comprehend, but if you have the audacity to offend someone else you best get down on you knees and beg forgiveness from that person and the entire population they represent. Just absurd.
    And I totally do it too.

  • caplight45

    I think that declaring that they are “offended” gives that person a fleeting moment of a feeling of moral superiority as well as an element of control over the situation.

    I also think that just as you can cultivate a “thick skin” so too you can cultivate a “thin skin” and if you do cultivate a thin skin you are weaker person for it.

  • Lisa

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to say one shouldn’t ever be offended or to even say that Jesus was never offended. I admit that as a Catholic, as a woman, as a human being – I am offended at the mainstreaming of porn in our society and I’m not going to say otherwise. However, there are appropriate & meaningful ways to respond when one is offended and ways that are not. I think that’s the key.

    [The point was not that Jesus was "never offended" but that he did not wear his offense-taking as hammer meant to shut people up; he did not, frankly, lord his status over us! -admin]

  • Jan

    “Be Nice” is still worse…:)

    [I agree, but they are peaches off the same tree. -admin]

  • Jenny

    I like your new picture!

  • Kevin J

    “Offensive” used to be shorthand for the phrase “offensive to public morals.” People forgot about the “public morals” part, which has an objective character. That’s why their retreat into the subjective doesn’t get anywhere.

  • Jack B

    Occasionally, a wounded expression from someone profoundly offended can be a reassuring sign of the high quality of whatever triggered the outburst. Lacking perfection in English, I sometimes wonder if I said clearly what I meant. A righteous eruption from the appropriate offended critic can confirm that I hit the nail precisely on the head, as intended. (Names omitted out of charity.)

  • Ross

    I truly don’t think a lot of people today look at being offended as a choice that they have, something they can decide to be or not. Nor am I sure I agree that most “offended” people use that tactic because they know they can’t offer a real, useful rebuttal. The larger problem, of course, is that we’re not training our children to think, to debate, to offer rebuttals. It’s part of our tolerance and self-esteem culture to believe that being offended is not only a valid response to speech you find disagreeable, but the most valid of all responses because it makes yourself, not the idea behind the speech, the thing around which the rest of the discussion must revolve – and every single one of us must never, ever be made to feel imperfect. The effect of this is that most people who claim to be offended, I think, truly believe that this is an instinctual response more than a choice; and, subsequently, that since instincts make up “who we really are”, the offense is 100% justified.

    Then again, I’m sure all of this applies to all forms of punditry. The solution will have to be getting all of us to realize that no single one of us is the end-all and be-all of our lives and our society.

  • TXRed

    I’ve used the “I’m offended” once in the past dozen years, and that was when some young guys at the gym started telling Sandusky and pedophile jokes, thinking that no one would care since it was the day after Sandusky’s conviction. I said “Actually, I find that very offensive and would appreciate it if you stop until after I leave.” They ducked a little, apologized, and stayed quiet until I left. That’s how “I’m offended” should be used, in my opinion. And it’s about the only way it should be used – not as a bludgeon to prevent discussion or as a way to prove one’s credentials. Which is probably why I’m not a pundit or activist.

  • Mary

    “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.” You’ve got to be kidding me? Yeah, I’m offended. Please people, Jesus is also Divine; let’s not forget that.

    [I never do, thanks be to God. Thanks for writing -admin]

  • http://cyber-coenobites.blogspot.com Archdruid Eileen

    As a pedantic person, the split infinitive in your picture is just the sort of thing that offends me.

  • http://www.stblogustine.com Matt

    Does this revelation mean you’re going to stop deleting my comments here and on Facebook?

    If I have done that, it’s been likely due to annoyance rather than offense-taking. I am rarely offended, particularly in the way I mean in this post -admin

  • http://www.stblogustine.com Matt

    Yes, dissenting views can be that way. And they’re rarely expressed by others for our own comfort. ;-)

    [I don't mind dissenting views; lots of them show up in my combox. What I don't like at all is passive-aggressive bullying. When I encounter it I no longer let it stand. It gets trashed. -admin]