Cecil the lion. And that Dentist.
Starbucks cups getting de-Christmas’d
The Stanford rapist outcry.
Poor ol’ Harembe the gorilla.
And then, of course, you have all the cooties. And you suck. And smell. Of poop.
That’s right. You heard me.
What’s that? You take offence?
Well, yeah, that’s kinda understandable. I was just prodding you for a reaction.
Taking offence is a new currency of communication; increasingly powered by the Internet and bandwagoned by people to show just how damn engaged and outraged they are.
Something in a magazine, or in a movie creates a meme of outrage on social media. Something a friend or family member said starts a fight or a bubbling resentment. Something you saw on the news, or an outrageous story you read about online results in a public apology that doesn’t put a dent in the outrage.
People seem to be becoming more polarised in their views of what’s “good” and “bad”, and are less shy about keeping that to themselves. It typically consists of train of thought that goes something like this:
I just heard a thing. That thing I heard doesn’t fit with what I think. That thing I heard is wrong. How can someone else believe that? How can someone else think that it’s okay? That’s all kinds of wrong. I’m offended by the thought of it. I should let everyone know.
Offence, powered by the Internet
The world we live in celebrates and elevates the individual. Build a personal brand, they tell us. Don’t let them get you down. Follow your passion. Don’t compromise your values. Plant your feet and don’t back down.
In a time when the individual is Queen (or King), the altar of self, that towering edifice people build in honor of who they are, is the very thing that makes people become self-righteous pricks who think that other people shouldn’t offend them.
You know, you do have the right to take offence at something. And there’s a lot of stuff out there to take a view on and perhaps get offended by. With so much content out there, it’s easier than ever to be offended.
You even have the right to think that you’re right and the other guy’s wrong (which, incidentally, doesn’t mean that you are right).
But you don’t have the right not to be offended by something, and there’s a huge difference between genuinely taking offence and being outraged that someone had the gall to offend you.
Using your outrage at being offended as a vehicle to steamroller your point of view is pious narcissism.
The Great Illusion
And then sometimes, taking offence is a response to the lack of control you feel.
It’s a way of controlling the uncontrollable, even if it means deriding, besmirching or repudiating it.
It’s a way of maintaining the illusion of control and feeling more confident as a result.
But confidence founded from control isn’t really confidence. It’s wrapping yourself in a blanket of certainty and being swaddled in the notion that you’re right, when you know ten-thousand feet down that you’re just about managing to hang on.
Taking offence can fuel both self-righteousness on the surface and self-doubt underneath.
The next time you feel yourself taking offence at something, pause.
Instead of slipping right into that opposing view, get mucky in the uncomfortable and murky greyness that sits between the “bad thing” and your reaction to it.
Look at what it says about you and whether it brings out the best or worst in you.
Consider how things might change if you brought something like compassion or empathy to the table.
And never, ever resort to piety over enquiry.