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tom_g's avatar

Does being offended have any place on a site like Fluther?

Asked by tom_g (16635points) March 15th, 2012

In other words, I wouldn’t invite my friends who allergic to shellfish to a tour of New England’s greatest seafood restaurants so we could review their shellfish. Or if I did, I would expect that the friend would have to stay away from the dishes that s/he is allergic to. But what if s/he ordered what she thought was merely haddock, but it contained a sauce prepared with shrimp? Our tour and review would be derailed because we’d have a friend on the way to the hospital.

I have come across more than a handful of people who pull the “offended” card here, and I am very confused. What exactly do people mean when they say that they are “offended”? Do they feel that this quality of being offended has any place in an activity that is specifically designed to be an exchange of ideas and opinions? If “offended” simply means “I disagree”, can we agree to express this concept by stating “I disagree”, rather than the show-stopping “I’m offended”?

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44 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Of all social forums I have been a member of Fluther seems to inherently possess a sense of decorum I have not seen elsewhere. I don’t see that as a bad thing nor a good thing it just is and IMHO it also attracts a certain clientele who I think appreciate the level of honesty it takes to be gracious in your comments and replies. So to see one express that they are offended is neither a surprise nor cause for alarm.

Our mass media driven world exposes us to so much in the way of extremes that one can and does become numb to the horrors and breaches of moral norms that it is a welcome sigh of relief when one here or anywhere expresses their opinion that they are offended.

That said, being offended is one thing making a big fucking deal out of it is another.

JLeslie's avatar

I am not easily offended. Having said that, recently I remember writing on fluther that I found something offensive. I don’t think it was offensive towards me, but an offensive statement of some sort. Can’t remember exactly. I think you make a good point that being offended needs to be set aside on a site like fluther, because many times we are saying things that are not PC to be able to talk about issues honestly and in depth. People who get offended easily usually have trouble in those conversations.

janbb's avatar

As @Cruiser says, I think we do generally tend to debate things in a relatively civil way although opinions get heated at times. There is also sometimes a tendency to groupthink and piling up on a poster with an unpopular opinion. I know what you are saying though; why be on an internet forum – even a civilized one – if you are going to take offense? However, all reactions are grist for the mill so if someone is offended, I’d just as soon they put it out there for discussion.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb Great point. I agree put it out there for discussion. I think also many times people get offended because they don’t understand the other person’s intent. If it is out their for discussion it gives the offender the chance to explain himself.

tom_g's avatar

Good points, @Cruiser (and others). I certainly appreciate the level of discourse here.

I’m reminded, however, of college. In my Critical Reasoning class, for example, if you were to write or state that you were “offended”, you would be ridiculed by the teacher for throwing a bomb into the discussion in an attempt to destroy it. If you disagreed with something, you would state that you disagree and would outline why you disagree. The ideas and concepts were the important players.

JLeslie's avatar

@tom_g Sounds like a great teacher.

janbb's avatar

@tom_g But we are dealing with emotions here too – it is not just an exercise in critical thinking.

tom_g's avatar

@janbb – True, but I have seen serious discussions about serious issues here derailed by people taking offense.

Sure, offense is about emotions. But what exactly is it? I’m not some kind of emotionless monster, but I’m not sure if I get “offended” – or at least not in the way that people have described it to me.

If I had to outline what I think being offended means, I would start with breaking out 2 types (from what I can tell):
– There is what @JLeslie describes above. That is, a statement that is “offensive”, but not necessarily to me. I think this is what is commonly described as being PC by some people.
– Then there is the act of taking offense because you feel someone attacked you personally. This is where I think I run into problems. I have been accused of attacking people by arguing against ideas that some people may hold.

zensky's avatar

All that’s fine and dandy for General.

In Social one can be free to feel as offended as they wish.


Blackberry's avatar

They’re really saying, “I have come in contact with ideas that aren’t like my own and this makes me uncomfortable, therefore, people should stop saying these things.”

It’s very rare for someone to actually tell another person directly: “You’re an (expletive) and I think you’re an idiot.” Which is offensive, but instead people are offended by things like “I think all or some of this group is stupid.” Yes, it still can be offensive, but it’s not directly attacking an individual, it’s attacking an idea.

janbb's avatar

@tom_g Well, I would feel offended if someone on here called me a mere flightless bird or, more seriously, an obnoxious kike but other than that kind of ad hominen attack, I agree that taking offense at disagreement is counter-productive.

wundayatta's avatar

I have been told that my avatar is offensive. Does that bother me? Yes. Here’s where it gets complicated.

I don’t mean to offend anyone with my avatar. Yes, I am aware that people see the symbol of the ass or moon as a way of thumbing your nose at others, only more so, but that is not the intent of my avatar at all. My avatar expresses me and in a very particular and specific way.

It is offensive for people to assume them know the meaning of my avatar without even discussing it with me. They make up a meaning, and assume they are right. To me, that is even more offensive. This one particular person even used my avatar as an excuse to leave fluther. But she couldn’t stand sexually explicit conversations, anyway. So I wasn’t the only thing that bothered her.

So at first, when I found out how she felt, I felt guilty for offending her. But then I thought about it for a while and I remembered that other people like my avatar. More people have said they like it than don’t, as far as a referendum is concerned. Yet it shouldn’t have anything to do with a referendum. It’s about freedom of expression.

And that’s the thing about being offended, I realized. Saying you are a offended is a way of gaining power over someone else. It is a way of limiting their freedom. You are suggesting that your sense of offense is more important than the other persons freedom to express themselves.

And that is exactly what fluther is not about. Fluther goes the other way. We value expression far more—at risk of offense. Now we don’t carry that as far as we used to. It used to be that anything went, but now you can get moderated for being obscene. Since I never see these obscene posts before they get moderated, I’m not sure what is included.

We can also get moderated for flaming. Calling names. Which, I guess, is a deliberate form of offense. I don’t know how to draw the line between deliberate offense and offense that is a matter of taste.

Consider this. What if I did have my avatar as a kind of in-your-face visual insult. What then? Would it be moderated? Should it be moderated? Is it obscene? We have a Supreme Court in this country that faces issues like that all the time. Is it art or is it obscene? All I can say to that is that if it is anything, it is copyright infringement—which, in this country, is probably a much worse crime. Fortunately, it is not a US copyright that is being infringed.

Mariah's avatar

There are topics that can really strike a nerve. Offense may not be warranted if the person is not intentionally striking that nerve. If I perceive intent behind the words, though, all bets are off.

But a mere difference of opinions doesn’t warrant offense. Everyone has the right to their opinions, no matter how “wrong” they might seem.

marinelife's avatar

Being offended has as much right here as any other emotion. When it is a problem, is when someone gets so in a huff they leave.

I think that acting from feeling offended occurs in two time periods. One is when someone is new. The other is when someone has become very jaded (and is unknowingly looking for a reason to leave).

In between. I see no reason to act offended or respond out of feeling offended. I was offended by what someone did on here a couple of weeks ago (a user attacked me and my response to a question rather than just answering the question), but I just didn’t respond. Then another jellie whom I like and respect PM’d me pointing out the user’s response and saying that they hated when people responded like that. So I felt much better, and I didn’t care as much what the original jellie had done.

I usually simply don’t engage on the threads. I let my response stand next to the other person and let other readers judge for themselves.

I do dislike it when a rather new user gets jumped on by several users all hammering away at a point that differs from the new user. I can see how that feels like a personal attack. I wish the longer-time users would ease up a little.

Blackberry's avatar

@marinelife has an excellent point. A part of the freedom of discussion is the same right for people to be offended, no matter how trivial the reason. :)

Sunny2's avatar

Some people have been so “offended” that they leave. That’s their choice.

tom_g's avatar

@Blackberry and @marinelife – I am not saying people don’t have the “right” to be offended. Rather, I am saying 2 things…

1. What does being offended mean.
2. To stick with the (potentially bad) allergy metaphor for a minute: I’m not saying that person A (who has a peanut allergy) doesn’t have the right to tour the peanut butter factory. Rather, I just don’t think the experience will be that great for person A and the rest of the people who are there tasting peanut butter, and having to tip-toe around person A.

janbb's avatar

Well, the people who do get offended continually usually go off in a huff – or sometimes a minute and a huff.

bkcunningham's avatar

I think it depends on what they say they are offended by, @tom_g. I made a remark in a post that a word someone was using as slang was offensive and it bothered me. The person PMed me I should have PMed them instead of saying it publically in the thread. I apologized and said they were correct. I guess we were both offended for different reasons.

marinelife's avatar

@tom_g To use your analogy, perhaps the act of traveling and the sights of New England make up for the chance of encountering shellfish.

Or to speak more plainly, the potential danger of being offended is outweighed by all of the positive social interactions.

Being offended means that something has crossed your boundaries and disturbed your sense of amour propre.

And @bkcunningham‘s story perfectly illustrates how people who are offended resolve it. It is really just part of the discourse.

Blackberry's avatar

@tom_g Yeah. I think some people are just new to the internet and are taken aback by the diversity of it all. Similar to someone traveling and being taken aback by certain things: “Omg I went to NYC and people are so pushy there, what the hell?!”

thorninmud's avatar

I look at it like driving in traffic. You have the explicit rules—the enforceable ones—without which order would completely break down. But then you have lots of implicit rules—commonly accepted considerations—that are more about fairness and making accommodations for others. Without these implicit rules, aggression would carry the day, and the whole experience would become far more stressful and inefficient.

In traffic, if I’ve been patiently waiting in a long line of cars to take the exit for the express lane, and someone else bypasses that line and goes right up to the front of the line and noses in, I feel offended in a way that I don’t when I see someone make an illegal turn or exceed the speed limit. I think that’s because I don’t want the road to become an environment where the one who most aggressively seeks his own advantage gets ahead. I’d rather it be a cooperative environment where all of our interests matter equally. Too stressful otherwise.

So how do I respond when someone violates those implicit rules and I feel offended? All kinds of angry responses come to mind; I reallllllly want to teach the guy that you can’t violate those rules with impunity. But then I think about how that will almost certainly escalate not only his emotions, but mine as well, and things could get really out of hand. Most often, the general harmony is best served by just letting it go.

The internet and social networking are new institutions. It will take quite awhile before the implicit rules become settled. Meanwhile, there will be people who aggressively push their positions, and others who push back out of a sense that they’ve been disrespected. That’s the organic way these rules are worked out. Neither the overly assertive nor the overly defensive will prevail (with any luck), but I think the process is quite natural.

tom_g's avatar

@thorninmud – Interesting analogy. However, the situation I am describing is a bit different. Let’s take this…

“In traffic, if I’ve been patiently waiting in a long line of cars to take the exit for the express lane, and someone else bypasses that line and goes right up to the front of the line and noses in, I feel offended in a way that I don’t when I see someone make an illegal turn or exceed the speed limit. I think that’s because I don’t want the road to become an environment where the one who most aggressively seeks his own advantage gets ahead. I’d rather it be a cooperative environment where all of our interests matter equally. Too stressful otherwise.”

The way I see it, you have been patiently waiting in a long line of cars when suddenly a person in the long line is “offended” by having to wait and follow the rules like everyone else. They claim that they’re unique, and decide to get out of the line of cars and cut everyone at the front of the line.

The “implicit rules”, as I understand them to be in serious dicussion/debate, is to take issue with a person’s arguments – not the person (ad hominem). Apply fair and consistent logic, and be honest.

So, I see this “I’m offended” comment to be a tactic that violates fair and decent conversation (at least in my experience here). It’s cutting in line.

SpatzieLover's avatar

I have come across more than a handful of people who pull the “offended” card here, and I am very confused. What exactly do people mean when they say that they are “offended”?

They may feel you are being unempathetic, especially if in your disagreement you are belittling their intelligence.

thorninmud's avatar

@tom_g “The “implicit rules”, as I understand them to be in serious dicussion/debate, is to take issue with a person’s arguments – not the person (ad hominem). Apply fair and consistent logic, and be honest.”

Yes, I agree with that insofar as getting at the truth is concerned. But getting at the truth is only one of Fluther’s functions, maybe not even its most valued function. It also has to be seen as a social organism. As such, members are conscious of maintaining their status in the community. The Asian notion of “saving face” is informative here; members of a community may choose not to prosecute an argument all the way to its inevitable conclusion because to do so might risk needlessly damaging the “loser’s” social standing. In the end, we may all be better off looking out for each others’ social standing, even if that means allowing them some of their delusions.

Jude's avatar

@tom_g one thing that I’ve noticed of you is that you tend to jump on people whom you don’t agree with. You get upset (crabby?). Sometimes, you have to let things slide. It’s the internet. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and they all stink.

tom_g's avatar

@SpatzieLover: “They may feel you are being unempathetic, especially if in your disagreement you are belittling their intelligence.”

This really gets to what I’m talking about. I have expressed impersonal arguments against ideas and have been accused of belittling peoples’ intelligence. How can we discuss something without separating ourselves from the subject we are discussing?

@Jude – fair point. I have been a bit crabby at times. I have apologized (both publicly occasionally – and in PM), but that is no excuse. I’ll try to be better at keeping my frustration to a minimum.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

As humans, we will be offended over things that really stick in our craw, no matter where we are. I have been offended here on a few occasions, but there’s also a big difference between just being annoyed or pissed off, and actually being offended. I don’t think this will change, since we are an emotional species, regardless of where we are and how civil others around us might be when disagreeing.

The biggest problem I see with actually taking offense over something, is that some people really seem to get off on playing the “I’m offended” card time and time again, and they really enjoy sucking the life out of those around them by playing the victim. There are a small few here, who can and will, turn any conversation into an “I’m a victim of this and it offends me” thread. It becomes tedious and causes people to leave.

6rant6's avatar

@wundayatta I follow your reasoning regarding people using being offended as a way to gain power, but I think you’ve stopped short.

People who tell you they are offended may be trying to have power over you. But there may be (and probably are) people who are offended and say nothing. The way you’ve set up your argument, if they say something, they are wrong because they are trying to control you, and if they say nothing they don’t count. In other words, you are always in the right. I suppose that’s possible. But it seems a narrow row to hoe.

It seems to me that you have a lot invested in the avatar, as you bring it up quite a bit. Yes, you’ve fooled people into thinking a map is an ass by making it so small that it’s impossible to read the markings. Don’t blame them for thinking you’re an ass.

I know that I offend people by what I write. For those of you I have offended, know that I frequently ask myself what it is that makes me so contentious. I do like the good argument, but I seem drawn into the bad ones. Sometimes I think we’d all be better off if I lost the URL. Oh well. A work in progress.

Paradox25's avatar

I think that fluther is one of the better sites for discussion, including dissenting veiwpoints, despite there being a leftist and atheistic slant from the majority userbase on here. At least I can argue my points on here without being banned or blocked like I’ve been on other sites and blogs. Some people will be offended by a viewpoint alone regardless of where you post on.

When I was on sodahead my dissenting opinions usually got me blocked on there. When I posted a dissenting opinion on wordpress blogs the authors of them usually would say you were offending them and ban you, or at least threaten to ban you. Even on mainstream self-help and dating advice blogs I’ve gotten banned despite posting my points civily.

wundayatta's avatar

@6rant6 Good points. In general, I try to avoid making people right or wrong in my own head. I say, “in general,” but that doesn’t mean I succeed. On many issues, it seems clear to me that a person is wrong because their position hurts others. Then I try to remind myself that we may discuss this conclusion. Perhaps the hurt is not as obvious to others as it is to me.

But sometimes it is not so much a policy that hurts others as an idea. With my avatar, it is the idea that the sight of a human behind is meant as an insult. In some people’s minds, that is the only way to read it. Never mind that for many men, a woman’s ass is an incredibly beautiful and life-affirming vision. Then again, the very idea that you would see a sexually arousing image could be insulting. And round and round we go.

I’d like for us to “hold a space” (fluther) where we can consider all these ideas without being personally insulted. If the image is offensive (or any other idea is offensive), I’d like to be able to examine that idea. Why do you take offense? Where is this coming from? What are the reasons?

Now, will you please interrogate me as to my opinions on the matter. I hope we can have a reciprocal relationship in investigating this idea and all ideas here, even the ones that are most anathema to me. If we can talk about abortion or whatever with mutual respect and without resorting to name calling just because you find the idea so offensive, then it seems to me we learn more.

Which sort of gets to the issue of why are we here? I think that a lot of us come to try to persuade others. Some of us come to try to learn from others. Most of us probably are here to do both.

Q&A can be seen as a spectator sport. Who is most persuasive? Who wins the arguments most often?

It can be seen as a place to gather information. Although what kind of information in the time of google? It only makes sense insofar as the answers can not be found on Google.

It can be seen as a game to be played—not so much for winning arguments but for other things. Perhaps for lurve. Or style points. Or to keep a conversation going. Maybe to generate eyeballs. So many ways of judging success.

Whatever, taking offense and giving offense get in the way of most of these goals. Never-the-less, it is necessary to give offense in some situations. If someone offends you first, a good strategy is to just hit back. Tit for tat is a very successful game theory approach to human interaction. People usually don’t want to be a in a war like that. Tit for tat.

On the other hand, offense is sometimes necessary to grab a person’s attention. To tell them this is important to you. Sometimes offense is inadvertent. Not meant.

There is a place for offense and offensiveness here. It should be seen as strategic. There are better ways of wielding it, and worse ways. Sometimes it is the last resort of the weak. “I’m offended,” when you have nothing else to say. Sometimes it is a deliberate provocation or an ideological nature and if may not even be sincerely meant. It is purely a tactic.

Still, overall it is a worthy tool, I think. It has its place. Sometimes people annoy me with how they get offended, but I know how to talk back, either with my own offense, or without.

6rant6's avatar

I think that we all tend to react most strongly when someone takes the moral high ground unrighteously.

Certainly I’m guilty of it. I reread some of my old stuff and I’m clearly flaming others because the flaws in my logic have been exposed. Man, if I were the one responding to my posts, I’d tear me a new one for sure.

ucme's avatar

It’s almost like they purposely seek out offence where none exists simply to fulfil a need, sad really.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@ucme Was that directed at moi, sir? How offensive!

YARNLADY's avatar

We have an obligation to ask that offensive remarks be removed, but there is also a responsibility to try to understand and tolerate people who think they are entertaining by being offensive.

People who continually take offense at statements probably have a problem communicating effectively.

flutherother's avatar

Maybe we should add the category of Abuse to General, Social and Meta. Abuse would be for provocative, insulting questions, personal insults and offensive remarks. Everything else would be modded.

lloydbird's avatar


In offended corner.

A little place out on the edge of town.

nikipedia's avatar

Interesting questions, @tom_g.

You asked what it means to be offended. I think @thorninmud got the closest to my personal definition—being offended is the feeling I have when someone transgresses against an unwritten law in a way that is hurtful to me.

I think that does have a place on a site like fluther. I think it’s ok for me to tell people when they’ve transgressed against my unwritten laws. They are free to disagree, and to continue to transgress. Or they might not have realized that was an unwritten law for people, and may sheepishly be glad they learned about it.

Letting people know that you were offended isn’t the same as controlling their behavior. But it makes me happy to know that some people think that it is—that knowing someone else was upset would be enough to make some of you feel like you needed to change your behavior. Not everyone thinks that way.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I’m kind of confused. Does one have to say “I’m offended”, in those specific words, to be pulling the “offense card”? What does this shellfish factory story have to do with being offended?

Honestly, @tom_g… the personal is political, and the political is personal. You know this. You show this very well on threads about breastfeeding and circumcision. If those conversations are just this unemotional, philosophical exercise detached from personal life, there’d be no reason to have those conversations in the first place. And, I’ve had college classes in which saying you are offended (alongside an explanation of what offends you, why it offends you, really taking the other person along with your train of thought) is considered a valid opinion and even integral part of the discussion.

fundevogel's avatar

@Aethelflaed I believe @tom_g is being critical of people that seem to think declaring “I’m offended” is sufficient to rebut, discredit or dismiss the offending comment. It’s not taking offense that’s problematic it’s granting the experience of offense special power or privilege that is.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@fundevogel Oooooo. Ok. Now I’m with ya. Thanks! Except for this shellfish thing. That, I’m still just so perplexed by.

ucme's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate That’s right go ahead, victimise me….again. blah, blah,blah…wollows in self pity & so it goes on & on & on…...

augustlan's avatar

I think feeling offended, and saying so, is ok pretty much anywhere, as long as it’s done in a thoughtful manner. We should be especially wary, though, of our own knee-jerk reactions, and realize that just because we feel offended, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the other party is actually being offensive.

Calmly discussing what has left us feeling offended offers an opportunity to resolve the issue. Maybe the other party didn’t realize they were being offensive and will learn something from it. Maybe we have misunderstood them, and assigned a motive that is not there, and we will learn something. Or maybe they truly are an asshat, and we will learn to avoid them. :p

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@ucme You’re such a hot victim. Offend me again so I can punish you.

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