The Power of Offense

It seems like everyone is offended these days. It seems that you can’t hold an opinion on almost any topic without offending someone. And that’s utterly ridiculous. When did we become so fragile? When did we become so incapable of hearing an alternate viewpoint? When did we, as a culture, decide that it was more important that we appease our own emotions than that we tell the truth?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the result of them frightens me. Our culture is being strangled in the name of “tolerance.” Many – not all, but many – of the left have tried to transform the meaning of this word. It’s intended to mean the acceptance of the existence of ideas that are contrary to your own, but now it’s being used as a way of saying “we accept those who you don’t accept, but we don’t accept you,” which is not the same thing. They’ve made an instrument of peace into a weapon. And please understand me here, I’m not trying to put down liberals. That would be the height of hypocrisy after just talking about what tolerance is supposed to be. There are people out there of all political beliefs that believe in true tolerance. People who don’t hate you just for looking at the world differently. Sometimes they’re hard to find, but they’re out there, I promise.

Unfortunately, those people don’t seem to be the norm. Instead, we see what appears to be a large (or at least decently-sized) portion of the population that refuses to even pretend to listen to an alternative point of view. And this happens on both sides of the aisle (the only point favoring the right is that they don’t shout “Tolerance!” as their battle cry, so they at least avoid that hypocrisy). Instead of having a healthy discourse between alternative viewpoints, anything contrary to what we believe gets shut out. We’re practically begging for groupthink to become the dominant form of communication here in America. And if that idea doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

We need the voice of dissent. Part of what makes America so great is that we’re made up of so many different parts. Our unity only lasts so long as the one who thinks differently is allowed to speak. As bad as things seem now, if the power of offense is allowed to fester and grow, the United States is going to continue to polarize. We’re going to see an escalation in violence between ideological groups. And I’m not talking about extremists here. We’re going to see friends and family turn against each other over the smallest of things, because we’re idolizing our views, allowing them to become more important than the people we’re fighting for.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for the rights of those who can’t stand up for themselves. On the contrary, I think more people should! But we can’t allow our passion for the causes we take up to cause us to forget that those we argue with are people too. They have their reasons for believing as they do, most likely having to do with experiences they’ve had or the testimonies of people close to them, just like how you came to your beliefs. So to spout wide generalizations or rude names at people simply because of a conviction they have is absolute folly. Not only is it most likely not true of the person – no matter how despicable their views seem to you – but by behaving in a hostile manner, you’ve effectively cut off any chance of actual communication with this person, giving you no chance to let them change their minds on their position.

If all you want out of your arguments is to make some noise and give yourself a pat on the back for putting someone in their place, then go ahead, keep being offended. But if you want to change people, if you want to see the world become a little bit brighter, it needs to start with you. Even when other people are trying to start arguments with you, when they’re intentionally pushing your buttons, take it as a challenge to keep a cool head and respond with wisdom, not anger. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Allowing offense to control your words will only bring you to your own ruin.

The peaceful road is a hard one to walk. It requires humbling yourself, allowing others to attack without striking back. Forgiveness without seeking retribution. Turning the other cheek when all you want to do is leave that one snide comment to “destroy” their argument. It isn’t easy, but it becomes easier with each person we convince to join us. So join me, and let’s become better people together.

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