by Lindsey Painter, 21 November 2017
In my last article I wrote about having a disagreement with my friend. The comments for that article were fascinating. I was called a thin-skinned liberal feminist snowflake. I’ve been called worse. It got me thinking about this phenomenon of “being offended.” What does it mean, and why do we do it?We have seen lots of offended people in the media lately. To be honest, many of the public figures in the media are quite offensive, so it isn’t that surprising some of us find ourselves raging into the void every once in awhile.
Here’s something interesting though: the relatively universal agreement that being offended is necessarily a bad thing. As if being offended means my feelings are tender and unused to the normal bumps of everyday life. Or I’m offended because people aren’t treating me like the special princess I am—thus the odd slur, “snowflake.” A quick google search of the word “offended” reveals a series of articles about why people are so easily offended these days, along with a string of YouTube videos of comedians making fun of people who get offended.
People do choose strange things to be offended about. I am married to a pastor, so believe me when I say I’ve seen my share of unnecessary outrage from people unable to manage normal life disappointments. But I would argue that much of the time people get offended when they see something unjust in the world and they wish to correct that injustice.
Let’s think of some examples of people being publicly offended in recent years. The first one that comes to mind is the series of YouTube videos I’ve seen pop on my timeline of people angrily destroying their Keurig coffeemakers. It has something to do with Keurig removing their advertising for a talk show on Fox News. I’ve seen people refuse to eat at Chick-Fil-A because some of their political contributions. People protest outside of Planned Parenthood; others protest outside of Trump Towers. I’ve seen videos of people burning Kaepernick Jerseys and people burning police cars.
Within the Adventist Church, I have a friend who has committed to wearing black every Sabbath to church until women can officially be ordained. I told him to buy more black shirts.
These things are not all equal. When it comes to politics, I am pretty solidly on one side of these various protests. (Refer to the thin-skinned liberal feminist snowflake comment above.) And it really bugs me when the media tries to make a moral equivalence between things that shouldn’t be compared. However, I have put them all in the same paragraph above because it supports my point. These people aren’t upset because someone hurt their feelings. These people are upset because they see something they perceive as a wrong in the world that needs to be righted. Some people feel that Kaepernick’s kneeling protests are disrespectful, others see Chick-Fil-A’s large monetary donations to anti-LGBT organizations as harmful. This isn’t about a generation of people who can’t handle regular life. This is a generation of people who are actively doing what they can to change their society to make it better. They aren’t thin-skinned, they are choosing to use their voice to make a difference.
Last Thanksgiving Native Americans protested the building of the Keystone Pipeline (and DAPL). For their efforts they were hosed with freezing water in the snow, refused basic amenities and medical treatment, and the pipeline was built anyway. This Thanksgiving what are those Native Americans doing? They are cleaning up the giant oil spill on their land that they feared last year. Are they thin-skinned?
Another fascinating aspect of society today is the aforementioned slur: snowflake. This is a term almost exclusively reserved for those on the left side of the political spectrum. I find this extremely odd. For one thing, some of the most dramatic and ineffective protests are happening on the right! I refer to the burning of Kaepernick Jerseys and smashing of Keurigs. Didn’t you already buy that Keurig? Don’t get me wrong, the left has a good share of totally ineffective protests (Occupy Wall Street, anyone?) but it doesn’t make sense to me that society would view the protests of the left as ridiculous, the result of people who are totally out of touch with reality, when the same phenomenon is happening on both sides.
I hear a lot about political correctness these days. It’s another example of people getting offended on both sides, really. One side is offended when people say Merry Christmas (It isn’t inclusive of everybody!) and the other side other side is offended when people say Happy Holidays (We’re removing Christ from Christmas!). To be perfectly honest, I find this yearly debate tiresome, and falling more toward the “unnecessary outrage” side of the offended spectrum. But it does go to show that offended behavior is definitely happening on both sides of the aisle.
So what should we do? If being offended isn’t bad, should we all just be more offended all the time? Well, no. But I don’t think being offended is the real problem. The real problem is that we’re all so entrenched in our ideologies that we have forgotten how to be reasonable. Just this week I’ve seen nearly identical opinion pieces from Republicans and Democrats saying how they hate that Moore and Franken, respectively, can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves, but we should all vote for them anyway because it’s better to elect a sexual offender to public office than a member of the other party. And I have to ask: when did we get this unreasonable? When did party loyalty become so important that actual pedophilia isn’t a deterrent to voters?
So what can we do when we’re offended? I heard a great sermon series on this topic recently. One thing is to name our feelings and seek a specific result. If my friend says to me, “You have offended me!” I don’t really have a lot of options for repairing that relationship. But if a friend says to me, “I felt hurt when you insulted my mother, and I would like you to understand why what you said was offensive”—that gives me a specific path to reconciliation. One of the big problems with Occupy Wall Street was its lack of specific goals. When my friend wears black every Sabbath to protest the GC’s unwillingness to ordain women, he has a specific goal in mind. He wants to see change happen. And every Sabbath, by wearing black, he shows his solidarity with women who feel the church has rejected them. That is a specific and meaningful protest. If he said he was offended by the GC’s treatment of women I wouldn’t tell him that he’s thin-skinned or a snowflake. I would thank him for his stand. And I do.
Lindsey Painter is a writer and mother of two. She’s married to Jimmy Painter, a pastor in Northern California.