I don't understand being offended

Michael Ian Black went off on a guy who yelled out "Heil Hitler" at his show the other night:

I just started screaming at the guy. Screaming. I don’t even know what I was screaming, although the gist was, “How dare you compare Hitler to this president or any president? How dare you equate what he did with Obama is doing? Do you have any idea how insulting that is? Do you know anything about history? Do you have any idea what Hitler did? He killed six million of my people, which is six million more than Obama has killed. You’re a fucking idiot. You’re a fucking moron. You’re the fucking problem with this country. You and your reflexive retardation. You’re a fucking this-and-that…” and then I just basically started yelling “fuck” a lot at the guy. Fuck fuck fuck fuck.

His rethinking on the exchange (from "it felt great" to "it was a mistake") is interesting to read.

Btw, he also answered some followup questions about the incident and said this about being offended:

Before this happened, I was thinking about developing a long piece about the nature of being offended. What does it mean to say "I'm offended?" Why are people so offended all the time? This incident made me think I should try to figure that piece out because I think there's something worth talking about there.

Interesting to me since I too like to discuss people who get offended. See, I don't understand being offended. At least not by words. If someone says something that rubs you the wrong way, there are two possibilities:

1) That person is wrong. If so, they are stupid. You should pity that person, not be offended.

2) That person is telling the truth. Even if it is unpleasant or not something you like hearing, it's still the truth. Deal with it. If you find the truth offensive, you're destined to lead a miserable existence.

I'm not saying you should sit back and take it when someone says something you find obnoxious. By all means, respond. But the idea that you'd get OFFENDED seems very childish. (Then again, I lack the capacity for many of the emotions normal human beings feel so that could also be part of the problem here.)

Related: Dr. Wayne Dyer, the bald new agey guru dude who gives lectures on PBS, has a great piece on how being offended is a waste of time.

When you feel offended, you're practicing judgment. You judge someone else to be stupid, insensitive, rude, arrogant, inconsiderate, or foolish, and then you find yourself upset and offended by their conduct. What you may not realize is that when you judge another person, you do not define them. You define yourself as someone who needs to judge others.

My prescription for people who like to get offended: Try apathy! It's a real miracle cure for so much in life.


Hank Thompson said...

Other than all the love/hate mumbo jumbo, that article is spot on.

Yeah, people sometimes have a weird visceral reaction to being offended. They make faces and flex their shoulders as if they were physically encroached. It seems to arouse something they can't control.

I don't get the being offended thing. To me, an offended person is an insecure person. It's handing off power too easily, conceding ground. Being offended says, "I don't have enough confidence in my opinions and beliefs so I'm forced to discount your opinions and beliefs in the panicky hope that I feel better about my own."

You don't have to like what you hear. You can vehemently disagree, in fact. But when you give away the queen you simply advance the cause of your own powerlessness. The defense walls go up and they can be quite strong. Irrational thought makes a great mortar, it turns out. (See: all religions.)

That said, a comic who seeks only to offend is simply looking for the easy dominoes to disrupt. He/she is lazy. The greater thought should precede the offensive part of the joke. Either that or just be fucking funny about it.

ECN said...

You know what? If someone is telling you (explicitly or implicitly,) "hey, I thought you might like to hear this" -- and then it turns out to be a bunch of horrible bullshit you can't condone -- yeah, you have the right to get offended.

If someone is trying to misrepresent what you're saying, or accuse you of doing or believing things that simply aren't accurate, you have the right to get offended.

If someone is directly harassing or otherwise attacking the people you love, and other people are making excuses for him, you don't really have the right NOT to get offended.

Et cetera, et cetera.

There are times when you absolutely have the right, IF NOT THE DUTY, to convey by whatever means you see fit, "Hey, this thing going on here is not okay. It's not at all okay, and don't think I approve of it just because I'm also here."

And yeah, sometimes you don't have the power to stop the person from hurting other people, but at least you're getting your point in there.

And if you don't see that, well, maybe you don't have those reactions. Maybe you've lost the ability to have those reactions. But maybe you should stop boasting about your deficiencies in empathy and start worrying.

ECN said...

And you forgot two possibilities.

3) That person is wrong, but damn it, they're being allowed to lie to people, and nobody's stepping up to correct them. If someone doesn't do something, people are going to think they're telling the truth, or that their opinion is in some way valid.

4) That person is deliberately trying to exploit people's fight-or-flight responses to get a reaction. How DARE he? That person is deliberately trying to hurt people... he's nothing less than a bully.

And as I said, if you're okay with misinformation and bullying, that says more about you than it does about anything else.

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