The Rights to be Offensive and Offended

In response to how much I am seeing people (in the news and in my personal life) try to force their opinions and beliefs upon others because they are offended, and find _____ behavior or expression offensive.

How many times have you heard the following or something similar?  “I am offended by this!”  Or perhaps it was, “That is offensive!”  How often were those sentiments followed by this or that “should be stopped”?  Good money could be won if you bet on usually, often, almost always, and etc, provided you were able to find a sucker to take that bet.

Of course any behavior or expression that offended someone should be stopped at once because being offended is hurting that person, isn’t it?  Everyone should just stop being offensive and doing offensive things, that would make the world a better place, wouldn’t it?  Would it really?  Let’s look at the definitions of the words being discussed as stated in Webster’s Concise Desk Dictionary ©2001.  The military and criminal/legal definitions will left out and disregarded for this discussion since neither military strategy or criminal matters are being discussed within this essay.

Offense: n. (a) state of offending; being offended to take o[ffense] at = to be offended by; […]

Offend: v. to be/ to go against ([…]opinions/ wishes/ feelings)

Offensive:  adj. which is unpleasant […]

Now since there is no direct definition stated for “offended” being as it is merely the past tense of the word “offend”, let us take the definition of “offend” and place it in past tense:

Offended:  To have been/ to have gone against (opinions/ wishes/ feelings)

Using these definitions as the baseline for discussion allow us to look at what it really means for something to be offensive and for us to be offended by something.  Beginning with the word “offensive”, what are we really saying when we say “This is offensive”?   All we are saying is “this is unpleasant.”  Since we can only speak from our own individual perspectives regarding whether we find something to be pleasant or unpleasant because such a state is completely subjective, what we are really saying is “This is unpleasant to me.”

Going back to an earlier question, would the world be a better place if everyone stopped being offensive and doing offensive things?  Let us look at the question again, but this time using the definition instead of the word.  Would the world be a better place if everyone stopped being unpleasant, and doing unpleasant things?  At first most would answer in the affirmative, that of course they want things less unpleasant and more pleasant.  At first most would not think about telling a friend a hard truth, like they significant other was cheating on them.  Not a pleasant experience is it?  Or how about a doctor telling their patient’s family that unfortunately the were unable to revived the family’s loved one after the patient suffered a heart attack.  Not scenarios that most would find offensive to be on the receiving end of, but there are enough that we have people who would try to push for malpractice lawsuits against our figurative doctor.  There are people who would rather stop talking and think their friend was offensive for “lying to them” because the truth was unpleasant.

Now let us look at the word “offended” and what it really means to say, “I am offended by this.”  Since that is a rather round about way of saying it and for the purpose of this discussion overly complicates the grammar and therefore increases the likely hood of misunderstandings to arise, it shall be simplified to, “This offended me.”  Replacing the word “offended” in the latter sentence with the above meaning, we get “This has gone against me.”  To be more grammatically correct, “This has gone against my opinions, wishes, and/or feelings.”

Return to another earlier asked question, should any expression or behavior that offended someone be stopped because being offended hurts that person?  Considering the length of the question and definition, this time it will be written using a shortened from of the above definition instead of “offended”, and someone shall be changed to the 1st person perspective.  Should any expression or behavior that has gone against my feelings be stopped because being against my feelings hurts me?  The definition was deliberately shortened to the feelings from, since that is the most likely of the three to cause hurt.  Keeping that in mind, many would say answer yes to that, at first.  Who wants to feel emotional pain, or be the cause of it for another?  Almost no one, but once again if the question is inspected on a deeper level, all may not appear so cut and dry.

A scenario to consider: your crush declines because they are not interested when you ask them out, in essence rejecting you.  Your feelings are hurt; you are offended by their rejection of you.  Should they not decline your request, their rejection of you, since it causes you pain, and date you?  What of them?  Should they then be hurt by having to date you when they do not wish to?  Should they then be the ones to feel pain in this situation, merely so you don’t have to be offended?  Look at it from the other perspective you are the one being asked out, are you not offended that their wishes should come before your own?  That they feel your pain at being in an unwanted relationship is less important than them being rejected?

If that held a bit too much high school drama for you, then perhaps the following scenario will suit you more.  A beloved friend or family member dies, you are hurt by this, to compound this pain, you find out that it was because they ambulance took too long to arrive and get your loved one to a hospital for treatment.  Would you be offended that it took so long?  Even if it was because there was a traffic accident that they could not foresee or avoid?  They did everything they reasonably could to help save your loved one, but still, you say, they should have done more.  What if you were the ambulance driver and you knew unless there was an accident that this was the fastest way, by several minutes and time counted?  Would you take the long way on the off-chance there would be an accident or the shortest and fastest route you could think of?  Would you be offended by them being angry with you over something you could not control?  What behavior or expression should be stopped in this case to prevent someone being offended?

To conclude, being offensive or offended is a completely subjective state held by the one who chooses to find offense rather than the one who is found offensive.  While we have every right to our feelings and opinions (ideas that are subjective to our emotions, personal experiences, and etc.), we do not have the right to dictate that our subjective experiences should be taken as fact or objective knowledge.  Meaning, we have the right to be offended and to find something offensive, but that does not give us the right to dictate that said something is in fact offensive to all or that all are offended by it.  Nor do we have the right to dictate that another conforms to our opinions, wishes, or feelings because we find some action, or words on their part to be offensive (unpleasant) to us.  We do have the right to engage in introspection regarding why we are offended and why some phrases or actions are offensive to us.  Let us take these opportunities to learn more about ourselves, rather than trying to control or condemn another.

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