General Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Do people choose to be offended?

Asked by elbanditoroso (28848points) January 16th, 2015

Although the immediate context is the depictions of Mohammed, there are dozens of recent instances where one group or another has reacted – sometimes violently, sometimes with fists, sometimes with letters to the editor, sometimes with demonstrations – based on their perception.

To me, the originator of the information (Whether Charlie Hebdo, Westboro Baptist Church, Salman Rushdie, or a TV or movie director) has a far smaller role in the so-called offensive action than the receiver.

In other words, the same message is being sent out by the book/broadcast/movie to all of us, but only certain people choose to be offended.

If that’s the case, why is the onus on the rest of us not to offend them, when being offended is a voluntary, personal choice?

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36 Answers

ucme's avatar

Not only that, some people actively seek it out & almost “prey” on it.

hominid's avatar

Concepts of free will aside, it appears to me that people do choose to be offended. Along with the concept of boredom, it’s one of the most puzzling things we do.

More importantly, we value being offended. It’s so important to us that we be offended, that we get offended on behalf of other people. It seems to be such a valued act, that some people feel that being offended demands action. It can be violence, or it could be as simple as censorship or some limitations on free speech.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

@hominid I don’t agree with you on very many things,but I do like and agree with your ^^answer on this question.

marinelife's avatar

I have trouble understanding it. If it is a matter of your faith, why do you care what unbelievers say?

Darth_Algar's avatar

We may not choose to be offended, but we definitely choose how we react to offense.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Have you seen the recent Q and meme on FB where the woman is offended by the taillights of a school bus because she says the LEDs are in the pattern of an upside-down pentagram (sign of the devil or some such)?
She is either simply trying to make a name for herself, seriously offended and lives in fear of the devil, or is looking for a law$uit. I don’t know which of the 3 choices is the worst.

Mariah's avatar

People love to feel offended, “righteous” anger. I think a source is that in our culture, we kind of worship underdogs, we are constantly bombarded with movies and books about people being bullied or discriminated against for some aspect of who they are. People want to be the protagonists in their own stories and I feel that some people actually seek out that feeling of persecution so they can view themselves as some romantic hero standing up against unfairness. I’m guilty of it too.

That’s not to say that all offense is unwarranted. Lots of behavior certainly is very offensive.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@LuckyGuy – combination of 1 and 2.

@hominid and @Mariah are saying much the same thing, which generally supports the point I made in the question— that taking offense is an optional, voluntary action.

So if that’s the case, does the source (broadcaster, writer, etc.) have any duty or responsibility? Or is that an impossible task?

LeilaniLane's avatar

Being offend is a choice, but valuing it is… strange. For me if I get offended, I try to get away from the person and calm down. Then I just try to see things from their perspective. I definitely don’t value being offended and generally try not to become offended.

The taillights thing is… sort of ridiculous if not stupid.

Mariah's avatar

@elbanditoroso I think people do have a responsibility to be generally not shitty people, and this includes such basic behavior as not being racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted, which are behaviors which I believe are worthy of offense. I don’t believe people need to be held responsible for not offending every little precious snowflake who has taken it upon himself to get pissy about tiny things. That just creates a society where everybody has to walk on eggshells and feel uncomfortable when trying to communicate.

This is my opinion of course. It’s unfortunately very subjective to determine what is and isn’t “worthy” of offense. Some people have much stricter or looser definitions.

hominid's avatar

@elbanditoroso: “So if that’s the case, does the source (broadcaster, writer, etc.) have any duty or responsibility? Or is that an impossible task?”

It’s both an unjustified and impossible task. First, we have the right to free speech (and for good reasons). We don’t have the right to not be offended. And it’s impossible an impossible task, because nearly everything is offensive to someone.

“The boy ran down the street.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that there are people who would read this sentence and manufacture outrage.

- Why is it a boy? Don’t girls run too? Are girls supposed to be barefoot and in the kitchen while boys run in the street?
– How do you think that makes disabled kids feel to read that? It’s offensive to those kids who can’t run.

hominid's avatar

I’ll also add that the whole concept is dangerous. Depending on your politics, you might see the danger of the other sides’ outrage. But it really serves to kill conversation – which is always a bad thing.

And really, what is being offended? Someone says or does something that you don’t like or that shocks you in some way? You are having an emotional response. This is a good thing in most cases. It’s a chance to examine what is really going on…with you and your response to things that are out of your control. It’s a chance to grow. If you’re offended because two men are making out in front of you, the problem isn’t the men – it’s you. Investigate that discomfort.

DominicY's avatar

There are some times where I think that being offended is simply a natural reaction to something. I’ve felt that “cringe” when I come across something I find offensive. I’m not choosing to have that feeling. It just happens, and there are times when I wish I didn’t feel that way. However, it’s the way that people who feel that cringe go on and on about it and turn it into something huge…that I think is when the choices come in.

LostInParadise's avatar

No, people do not choose to be offended, just as they do not choose to be flattered. We like to be recognized for the good that we do and do not appreciate being made fun of for our sincere beliefs. I support Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech, but as an exercise of my right to free speech, I say that what they did was rather crass and not at all funny.

hud's avatar

The Buddha would say “Yes”.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@hominid What is the difference between “being offended” and “being hurt”? What is the difference between “being offended on behalf of other people” and feeling empathy?

To others, I find it interesting that people would judge those who do feel offence. Does that mean that these people offend you? How then are you different from the people you are judging?

hominid's avatar

@dappled_leaves: “What is the difference between “being offended” and “being hurt”? What is the difference between “being offended on behalf of other people” and feeling empathy?”

I don’t know what “being offended” means, so these are good questions. I have had conversations here for years, and have yet to get a clear response. I can be hurt, but I don’t think that is what people mean when they claim offense. It think it goes beyond that, but I could be wrong.

But being hurt (or offended?) is a personal act. If my father is offended that he had to witness 2 guys make out, and he claims to be offended, that is something he needs to deal with. Whatever being “offended” means, it is only a sign that someone did or communicated something that you didn’t like, right? If you have some insight into this, let me know.

@dappled_leaves: “To others, I find it interesting that people would judge those who do feel offence. Does that mean that these people offend you?”

I’m struggling to parse what you are saying here. I am trying to understand what “being offended” means, and what it has to do with anything other than the “offended”.

@dappled_leaves: “How then are you different from the people you are judging?”

A) I don’t get offended? B) I would never advocate for any limitation on free speech. I don’t get what you’re saying here. Maybe you could elaborate.

hominid's avatar

Forgot to respond to the “difference between being offended on behalf of other people and feeling empathy part”

From what I can tell, these two concepts could not be more different. I can’t even see a connection.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@hominid I’m going to give the rest of your post some thought before responding, but I have to question this statement: “A) I don’t get offended?”

Is the implication that nothing offends you? When a certain jelly says she believes that corporal punishment works, and that she plans to hit a child, despite everything you’ve said to try to convince her otherwise, can you honestly say you’re not offended by that? I think that you are, and I think that is not very different from having another person cause you emotional pain, if in fact there is any difference.

flutherother's avatar

No, rather people choose to offend.

hominid's avatar

@dappled_leaves: “Is the implication that nothing offends you? When a certain jelly says she believes that corporal punishment works, and that she plans to hit a child, despite everything you’ve said to try to convince her otherwise, can you honestly say you’re not offended by that?”

Here’s what I can say – I have never thought, “I’m offended”. I’ve also never been bored, but that’s another topic. I can describe what goes through my mind when I am arguing with someone who is convinced that corporal punishment works and plans on hitting a child…

If I go back and forth for some time and there seems to be little progress, I may get frustrated. I will think that she’s wrong. But I’m in no way trying to play any strange game here – I really don’t understand where this concept of “offended” would even apply here or anywhere. Frustration certainly doesn’t seem like it’s synonymous with what is being described by people who get offended, right?

@dappled_leaves: “I think that you are, and I think that is not very different from having another person cause you emotional pain, if in fact there is any difference.”

?? If emotional pain, which I’m quite familiar with, is synonymous with being offended, than I don’t think “offended” has any value and should immediately be dropped from use. But I don’t think you mean that, right? When my kids are going through something painful and I feel deep emotional pain, am I “offended” that they are in pain? When I was dumped by my girlfriend in high school, I don’t think I ate for a week it hurt so bad. Was I “offended”?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

That is it in a nutshell, no matter what it is, people or groups of people decide this is OK, that is offensive, and that is obscene or perversion, it is all by the whim of the receiver as to how they will process what just is.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central , of course.

@flutherother wrote “No, rather people choose to offend.” I utterly and completely don’t accept that.

The person doing the talking or writing has no idea who the audience might be. Take Salman Rusdhie – he was writing literature (good literature at that), and some yahoo Ayatollah decides to get pissed off. Rushdie couldn’t know who might come across his writings.

The only to never give offense to anyone is NEVER write and never talk and never express an opinion. Look at @homind’s first response for some examples.

If we lived in a world where ‘people’ never offended, we would have no politics, no economy, no television, no movies, and precious few books. Oh, forget music and opera as well.

What a boring world it would be.

ragingloli's avatar

As acclaimed philosopher James Anthony Patrick Carr said: ”Offence is taken, not given.

JLeslie's avatar

It’s not perfectly black and white. Some things are so incredibly and inarguably offensive that it’s hard for anyone to say it isn’t. Then there is a whole grey area and I think a lot of people do choose to be offended. Some just don’t know any better.

Being easily offended I think of as fairly typical “old world” behavior. As an American what I mean by that is older people who came to this country who are typically not very educated. I don’t mean they are stupid, not at all, but they get very caught up in what people should do and should say. They have trouble understanding no one can read their minds and that different cultures have different expectations.

The other group who is easily offended seems to be the ultra educated ultra liberal types. They get offended and worry even more when other people might be offended.

Kind of strange bedfellows.

None of those generalizations are absolutes. All sorts of randomness to being offended.

I’m not easily offended, but I do sometimes find things offensive.

I think what is most annoying to me is when people have a double standard about it. Like if someone behind closed doors says things against a particular group and then when someone else says something against the group they identify with they act like they would never say anything similar.

hominid's avatar

@dappled_leaves – My Google search skills are failing me this morning, as I’m unable to find any good resources for learning about the concept of “being offended”. I’ve seen a couple of articles on being “slighted” and how it’s related to an old Freudian term, “narcissistic injury”, but I’m not sure that will cover it. If you have any links that might be helpful, let me know.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, absolutely, we can all choose to see that being “offended” is only our ego not liking to feel threatened, because we over identify with our thoughts and opinions as being the essence of who we are, when they are not. This takes a lot of commitment to self awareness work which few ever really do and even if you do ego is sneaky, it can slip in the back door on the stealth. That said however, I do also think that deliberately baiting others is not wise as in the case of the whole Charlie Hebdo situation.

Anytime we choose to antagonize others we must also accept the potential for defensive reaction if not downright violence. My opinion on this is not going to win me any popularity contests but I feel there is more than a small measure of personal responsibility when choosing to double dog dare extremely dangerous people or animals. When others are so invested in their beliefs that they are willing to kill for them, well, double edged sword, bait these types then you are also choosing the probability of extreme consequences.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

@Coloma Very true, but we can’t be intimidated by these extremists either,so whats the answer?

Coloma's avatar

@SQUEEKY2 I don’t know, but I don’t think it is in continuing to rock the boat of psychopaths.
I think the problem is not about bending over and taking a stick up the a$$ but it is also not about reckless antagonizing either. I don’t think that freedom of speech or expression should include the freedom to blatantly abuse and insult others. You’re free to disagree and state the reasons why you disagree but freedom of expression does mean freedom to abuse, mock, deride, degrade, insult and inflame.

Coloma's avatar

Note: Does NOT mean freedom to…..

hominid's avatar

@Coloma: “Anytime we choose to antagonize others we must also accept the potential for defensive reaction if not downright violence.”

Well, here’s why I’m not a gambler. I never would have expected those words to be typed by you. This is the clearest “blame the victim” declaration I think I have seen here on fluther.

@Coloma: “My opinion on this is not going to win me any popularity contests but I feel there is more than a small measure of personal responsibility when choosing to double dog dare extremely dangerous people or animals.”

…or wear a really short dress.

@Coloma: “When others are so invested in their beliefs that they are willing to kill for them, well, double edged sword, bait these types then you are also choosing the probability of extreme consequences.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but sounds like a “had it comin’” response, rather than a call to eliminate the problem: those who wish to silence those they disagree with. By violence.

@Coloma: “I don’t think that freedom of speech or expression should include the freedom to blatantly abuse and insult others. You’re free to disagree and state the reasons why you disagree but freedom of expression does NOT mean freedom to abuse, mock, deride, degrade, insult and inflame.”

This interpretation of the freedom of speech strips it of all meaning, and results in a right that cannot be exercised. The results would be catastrophic to anything worth keeping and fighting for. Your interpretation of what the freedom of speech should mean is synonymous with a complete absence of freedom of speech.

Coloma's avatar

@hominid 1. No, it is not a blame the victim stat
ement, it is a simple truth. If we choose to spray mace in the bears face don;t be surprised and shocked it it attacks. That is all I am saying, not blaming the victims just saying that provocation does carry consequences. Provoke at your own risk. Not that hard to understand.

2. ONLY if one was to deliberately bait a violent sex offender, That would just be stupid, don’t you think?
If you have a violent neighbor and you choose to deliberately bait them don’t be shocked and surprised when something dreadful happens. Just common sense. Don’t tug on Supermans cape, don’t spit into the wind.

3 What I am saying is two wrongs don’t make a right. Violence is not the right way to handle a situation but neither is mockery and derision which is a form of violence in itself.

4. I disagree. It is called being discriminating. Nobody in their right mind can or should expect to catch more flies with vinegar than honey. You don’t have to sugar coat your opinions but you also do not need to take them to recklessly foolish levels of spiteful vitriol.

My point is that choosing to deliberately inflame an already volatile situation is a lose/lose proposition. Like attracts like.

hominid's avatar

@Coloma: “Provoke at your own risk. Not that hard to understand.”

I understand that there is risk involved. When you march for civil rights or are involved in any kind of political act (believe me, I have been very close this). But we don’t discuss struggles for civil rights in terms of having poked the bees nest and risk. These struggles reveal the cancers so we can start the treatment. We don’t blame the movement for revealing the cancer.

You bear metaphor is interesting. In the case of a bear, we know that bears are not part of human society because what bears do is incompatible. If bears were roaming the streets and occasionally eating someone, we would likely determine that these bears are the problem – not the people. Bears aren’t inherently bad. They just naturally do what bears do, and those things are not compatible with a human society. No hard feelings.

To bring this back around to religious fundamentalists – are they the bears? I might be willing to agree with you here. You’re likely right. They aren’t compatible with human society, and that is a problem. What are we to do?

Also, I think you’re throwing terms around way too loosely, and I’m not sure if you’re aware of it. Mockery, vitriol, derision – good luck trying to figure out what does and does not qualify. You could write a book, a cartoon, create a movie which is critical of the treatment of women in Islam, or commit the death-worthy crime of simply no longer believing. Most of what I have written here on fluther would likely be considered mockery, vitriol, and derision – and while it was focused on religion overall, there is only one religion currently that would play the role of bear.

@Coloma: “My point is that choosing to deliberately inflame an already volatile situation is a lose/lose proposition.”

I think we have a completely different reading of history. It’s my understanding that direct confrontation of peoples’ sensibilities is the reason we have and continue to progress. Whatever it is that you find important – none of it has come by being proper and not offending people. It’s why the ACLU defends the free speech rights of the KKK. No change is possible without the freedom of speech. It’s probably the most important right we have. Putting ill-defined shackles on this right does eliminate the right itself.

Coloma's avatar

@hominid I agree with you in many ways all I am saying is that direct confrontation does carry responsibility when dealing with dangerous beasts of any kind. We may be free to say, do, write, publish whatever we choose but…is it always wise? This is the whole ego thing at play. One can only be truly a “victim” if they are completely unsuspecting, innocent of any provocation, completely minding their own business when, wham, out of the blue they are attacked, assaulted.

If one chooses to engage and take their right to free speech to insane levels of foolishness, well….while wrong, sad and not acceptable, they cannot truly be victims in the purest sense of the word.
Confrontation can be valuable but there is a difference between righteous confrontation and willful insult taken to insane levels. Again, there are inherent risks to direct confrontation, maybe just leave it at the “no pain, no gain” mantra, but sadly, I think a lot of pain could be avoided in certain instances.

Anyway, nuff said, I think we understand each others POV better now. Gotta run…

hominid's avatar

Thanks. I think I understand what you are saying now more clearly.

However, there is something else that I’m not sure I made clear concerning my position here. Since it appears to me that there is risk assumed in communicating ideas because someone may become offended and determine that violence is required, it’s critical that something be done about this. This condition puts my kids and everyone I love at risk. It threatens a peaceful world. It threatens progress. So, I see direct confrontation in this area – weeding out the “bears” as critical. When Charlie Hebdo was attacked, the most obvious course of action appears to be to be to produce even more, “offensive” material. Sure, it’s risky as we have agreed. But it’s vital to everything that’s important to me and the future.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a matter of tolerating whatever tasteless nonsense they have going on over at Charlie Hebdo. We should be celebrating what they have done – no matter how “why, I never!” [clutches chest] offended we feel. Its important work, and should be encouraged. What you might call foolish, I would call brave. And I thank them for it (or would if they weren’t killed).

Coloma's avatar

@hominid I hear ya.
The question is, where is the line between foolhardy antagonism and martyred bravery? Good discussion. :-)

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