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The Supposed Virtue of Not Being Offended

Alternate title: YEAH WELL I’M NOT OFFENDED SO WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE OFFENDED BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY IF I’M NOT OFFENDED IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL AND WHY CAN’T WE JUST HAVE THE EXACT SAME FEELINGS ABOUT EVERYTHING

I often encounter people who are Not Offended by bigotry or microaggressions and are very proud of that fact. In fact, because they’re Not Offended, they think that nobody else should be offended by the thing they’re Not Offended by, either.

It’s difficult for me to criticize those people because, often, they’ve been through a lot. They’re survivors of sexual assault who don’t see a problem with rape jokes. They’re people with mental illnesses who don’t care if you tell them to “just snap out of it.” They’re women who don’t care if they get catcalled on the street. They’re gay men who don’t care if you call them “f****t.”

Sometimes the way people cope is by growing a thicker skin. While that’s not something I’ve ever really been capable of, it’s none of my business how other people cope. It’s also none of my business what other people are and are not offended by.

When it becomes my business, though, it when such people start implying that because they’re not offended, nobody else should be, either. That’s when they lose me. It seems like some people haven’t really learned that 1) everyone is entitled to their feelings, whether those feelings are “rational” and “logical” or not, and 2) your feelings don’t have to be everyone else’s feelings too.

The other issue with this is the sense of superiority that such people often have. Being Not Offended becomes somehow morally better, or a sign of strength or “maturity” or “perspective.” It’s also assumed to be the “healthier” option, because being offended means you’re “holding a grudge” or something equally ridiculous.

Of course, even if being Not Offended were healthier, that wouldn’t really matter because it’s not a choice. While we can choose whether and how to act upon our feelings, we can rarely choose which ones to have. It’s not really your choice whether to be upset by something or not, and I believe the technical term for considering yourself superior to others because of things they can’t control is Being A Dick. (If you’d like to change the feelings that you automatically have in response to things, you could try therapy, but that’s not available to everyone and the stigma associated with it is still significant. So at best you’re shaming people for not going to therapy.)

To some people, being offended also means you’re wasting your time nitpicking people’s language as opposed to working on Real Issues, which is an argument I often come across but have yet to see proof for. Is there actually an activist out there who does nothing but police people’s jokes and language? If you run across someone who criticizes your jokes or language, how do you know they don’t do anything but that with their life? You don’t.

None of this means that you have to be offended by something just because others are. For instance, I have no problem with casual usage of the word “crazy,” but many other people with mental illnesses do. I understand why they do, but for some reason hearing that word thrown around just doesn’t provoke any emotional reaction from me. I also occasionally use that word to describe myself. However, I never use it to describe other people, and I try to avoid using it casually in public because I’m mindful of the fact that others find it offensive. (Also, it’s just such an imprecise and lazy word to use.)

But I would be wrong if I said that because I’m not offended by the word “crazy,” nobody else should be, either. I would be wrong if I considered myself more mature or healthier than those who find that word offensive.

Speaking of imprecise word choice, “offensive” and “offended” are prime examples. When people speak dismissively about those who get “offended” by “politically incorrect” jokes or comments, they make it sound like those of us who dislike such jokes and comments are just choosing to take righteous offense because we’re so sanctimonious and more-liberal-than-thou. While that might be how it works for some people, for many others it’s a very different sort of emotion that it evokes. These comments hurt. They make people feel pigeonholed and objectified. They make them feel like the butt of a joke they never asked to be the butt of.

It’s telling, I think, that whenever I see discussions about how “being offended” is a waste of time/a sign of immaturity/not compatible with Real Activism/a “character flaw,” I never see any compassionate advice for those who find themselves inordinately upset by bigoted comments. All I see, really, is self-indulgent gloating about the virtues of Not Being Offended.

Nobody’s taking your freeze peach away. If you’d like to offend people, go for it. But prepare to face criticism for that choice. Personally, I’d like to live in a world where if someone hurts someone else with an ill-considered comment that serves no actual purpose, they’ll apologize and seriously consider not making such comments in the future rather than lording their Thick Skin and Maturity over the person they’ve accidentally hurt.

Microaggressions can actually have pervasive negative effects on people, and research backs this up. They activate stereotype threat, which is a process in which people underperform based on stereotypes about their race or gender when those stereotypes are made salient for them.

If you’ve managed to overcome that, good for you! Now stop looking down on those who haven’t.

Comments

  1. smrnda says

    A shocking experience for me was meeting a Black woman from the rural south who told me that the confederate flag didn’t bother her that much. To me, I grew up thinking that it was a moral duty to be offended by certain things and not let people get away with them.

    To me, saying “I’m not offended so you shouldn’t be either” is like a person who says that they got shorted out of a money on a paycheck and since they didn’t make a big deal out of it, I shouldn’t either. If you want to ‘suck it up’ or something, go ahead, but don’t tell me I shouldn’t.

    Part of this might be that the person who ‘doesn’t get offended’ is working on a different strategy; appealing enough to the insensitive members of society, or the dominant majority, that they think they’ll get better treatment. You might be right that it’s coping though, a way of saying “I’m stronger than you people who get offended.” Sometimes I ask someone why they don’t get offended. I mean, why rape jokes funny? I’d like someone to explain that to me, because beyond offended I just don’t get how that can be funny.

  2. says

    I get so confused about these things and it just makes me never want to talk to people ever. I’m already awkward enough, and it’s so crappy to feel like you have to walk on eggshells around everyone about everything. We were just having this conversation in the Secular Woman group regarding whether people asking about your religious practice is a microaggression.

    I’d never heard the term microaggression before so this is all new to me. But it almost seems like it could apply to ANYTHING that isn’t the status quo that might make one upset.

    If you ask me “Do you have kids?” or “When are you having kids?” I am liable to break down in tears and hyperventilate. I’m shaken by it currently and it sort of offends me. But is that to say you should never ever ask someone when you are playing “getting to know you” as adults if they have children? Simply because I am going through some tough times regarding the societal pressure as a woman in a heterosexual marriage? I wouldn’t expect these questions to be struck from American vernacular because I am going through a crisis (I am sure one that many women my age share, but we don’t talk about much).

    Though, I understood microaggression as something to be purposefully insulting. But then the definition also states that the microaggression can occur whether insult is intentional or not? *sigh*

    I just don’t want to hurt feelings.

    • atheist says

      You don’t sound like an agressor, micro or otherwise. You sound like a thoughtful person who’s confused by your own culture. As long as you let other folks know you have a sensitive spot regarding children, I don’t think you will hurt any feelings.

  3. mythbri says

    @Nicole #2

    I think that what Miriam was talking about (or at least, what I’ve observed in conversations in which people try to tell others that they shouldn’t be offended by what they’re saying) is that mistakes are common – but if a person is really trying to interact with you in good faith, in a decent way, then they would refrain from doing or saying things that they know are offensive to you.

    You’ve already listed something that would negatively affect you if someone said it to you. Now, let’s say that a person who asked that question made the judgment that you were over-reacting to that question, and that they think you shouldn’t. They think you’re weak or thin-skinned for reacting in the way that you do. So they go out of their way to ask you that same question over and over again, every time they interact with you. Let’s say they’ve begun to think of this as an issue of Free Speech, and have created entire blogs and forums to specifically create spaces where they can exercise their “right” to ask that question – of you, or anyone, regardless of how people feel about it. Does that feel a little excessive to you? Far out of proportion to your supposed “over-reaction” to the original question?

    People slip up in conversation – I know that I do. I definitely don’t like to hurt people. But there’s making a mistake, and then there’s being an asshole.

    • says

      Yeah… I think I understand better now. Just after having this discussion in another place about “microaggressions” and seeing it here, I think I felt super sensitive. Since, I came to the understanding that a microaggression is one, whether the person who causes it intends to insult or not.

      I suppose I got confused when someone suggested that “What is your religious affiliation?” is a microaggression. I’d argue that it’s not, and that the intention of the question is EVERYTHING.

      But of course I would never accuse someone of taking my “Freeze Peach” (I love that term) if they told me they were upset by something I asked.

      • says

        Nicole, I think that context very much matters. In Germany where I live most people don’t give a flying fuck about people’s religion, so asking about it is more a chit-chat stock item. It’s different in the US.
        Also the children question (and I would say “do you” is a very different question from “when will you”) can be different in different contexts. And the main thing is: even if I asked a seemingly innocent question, and it just really got you (becuase you have been put under pressure, because your family planning didn’t work out the way it did…) I don’t get to tell you: Stop being so offended! Instead the sensible thing is to say “I’m sorry that I offended you, it really wasn’t my intent.
        You can never know where somebody’s triggers lie, what button you might push. Still there’s a stock of microagressions that can easily be avoided, like the stereotype that heterosexual women are baby-factories.

  4. says

    A major problem with the SJ framework is that the high ground always goes to the person who is offended. You can be a person who has actually survived x; you can state respectfully and in good faith that you do not believe word, phrase, or sentiment y reifies oppression by being expressed; your opponent can fail to have any citations backing them up. But they’re “right” and you’re “wrong.” Moreover, you are written off as “derailing,” having “internalized [oppression],” “failing to educate yourself,” etc.

    I’ve got a psych medical history, including hospitalizations for depression. I am not on board with any number of assertions I have seen over the last several years by alleged anti-“ableism” types. Those involving language policing irritate me in particular. I do not have much compunction about stating that, yes, I have better priorities than someone who complains about words like “scab” (in the union sense) or phrases like “What’s the matter with you?”

    Really, how do these people function offline? I strongly suspect that a number of SJ warriors play the “You can’t say that!” game because it allows them a sense of power they can’t get elsewhere in their lives.

    • says

      A major problem with the SJ framework is that the high ground always goes to the person who is offended. You can be a person who has actually survived x; you can state respectfully and in good faith that you do not believe word, phrase, or sentiment y reifies oppression by being expressed; your opponent can fail to have any citations backing them up. But they’re “right” and you’re “wrong.” Moreover, you are written off as “derailing,” having “internalized [oppression],” “failing to educate yourself,” etc.

      I agree, but that’s not what I was addressing here. I was specifically addressing the concept that not “being offended” means you’re a stronger/better/more mature person than those who do get “offended.”

      I’ve got a psych medical history, including hospitalizations for depression. I am not on board with any number of assertions I have seen over the last several years by alleged anti-”ableism” types. Those involving language policing irritate me in particular. I do not have much compunction about stating that, yes, I have better priorities than someone who complains about words like “scab” (in the union sense) or phrases like “What’s the matter with you?”

      I think you’ll love this article, which I cite often: http://meloukhia.net/2012/08/missing_the_point_on_language.html

      I’ll be happy to debate whether I’m allowed to call myself crazy when all crazy people have access to safe, stable, nonjudgmental health care from focused, attentive care providers. When all crazy people aren’t at risk from being murdered or assaulted simply for being crazy, when all crazy people aren’t marginalised and ignored by most of society, when all crazy people have full equal rights. Until then? I’m Emperor of Crazytown, and you’re going to have to deal with it.

          • Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

            It is a good general point. I’m also a crazy person, and it resonates, though I am not a fan of ou’s stuff in general.

          • says

            The point with talking about language was never to banish certain words from usage.

            That is inevitably how it ends up, though. The “Ableist Word Profile” on FWD, no matter how often that bunch claimed it was not a list of forbidden words, became a list of forbidden words.

            The fact that some original, dynamic, and interesting conversations have turned into a superficial search for codewords in the interest of crying ‘gotcha’ really infuriates me, as a lover of language and conversations about language.

            Maybe she’d like to take that up with some of her closest associates. I’ll note that it wasn’t really until maybe two years ago that people in her circles started expressing their sadness over SJ dogpiles… mainly because the behavior had come back to bite them.

            As for Smith per se, I think this page sums up a lot of my objections. (Yes, it’s from the wiki to a community that dishes a lot of gossip.)

  5. Stubborn Blonde Warrior says

    @Nicole

    I think your heart’s in the right place, and that’s a really good start. But, the response that worries you doesn’t need to be so extreme. This post is mostly talking about when people have communicated that something is hurtful to them, to avoid doing it with them. (As an add-on, it’s also nice, though perhaps not necessary, to ask new friends if something could be hurtful to them, so that you can avoid it.)

    Also, there are examples of being rather “universally sensitive,” so to speak. Some people would call it being “politically correct,” but it’s not a matter of politics so much as knowing that there are certain things, like rape, or name-calling (esp. historically offensive things, like f****t, or the N word, etc.) that are generally perceived as harmful.

    But on the whole, the best thing to do is look out, and listen/be compassionate when people tell you something hurts their feelings, and try to avoid doing it around them. That’s really the bottom line of what’s being gotten at here. It’s a really good thing that you care, but that doesn’t mean you have to fear talking to people. Just listen as well, and you’ll be A-OK. :)

  6. says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter,

    Is that why I don’t see you around much anymore? Tired of seeing conversations derailed because someone saw a single word used in a non-aggressive context and they have to follow the person to multiple comment threads complaining about them?

    I almost lost my own shit a couple of months ago when I used the word “ghetto” and someone told me I shouldn’t because it is “racially charged”. Since I’m a) from the ghetto, b) not a white guy, and c) was at the time living in an actual ghetto where the residents referred to it as such, it was hard to take that complaint seriously. On the other hand, I don’t care to fight about it that much. I have other words.

    • says

      Joe, that’s a big part of it. It gets tiring to be caught between MRAs and the like on the one hand, and then people who are supposedly on your side on the other. I don’t recall the “ghetto” incident, but given your situation the word was entirely appropriate for you to use IMO.

      And, yeah, you mention what I forgot to in my previous comment: There are some people who glom onto SJ movements because they enjoy policing others, and they will fixate on the smallest “violation.” There are also communities in which the mindset has gone so far (e.g., Shakesville) that you really, actually do have to walk on eggshells… unless you’re in the site owner’s clique, that is.

      I should mention to Nicole at #3 that this is a completely different situation from accidentally hurting someone’s feelings in conversation, or triggering them, with language that is not widely regarded as offensive. If you do that, and you apologize sincerely and refrain from using that word or phrase in future, nobody who is worth associating with will have a problem with you.

  7. says

    To be a little more on topic: I don’t need to be personally hurt/offended by a word to understand why other people might feel that way. It is called “empathy” and if people practice it enough it should start to come more easily to them. I grew up Hispanic in one of the tiny towns near Mayberry. People would see my last name and assume I had trouble speaking English even though I had an easier time with grammar than the Southern stereotype that many of them more than lived up to. Let me tell you, THAT is a kick in the crotch that is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.

    So yeah, I get it. I don’t have to share your specific details to understand being discriminated against… and if a specific word triggers you, I’d rather not use it.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    I don’t think everybody gets a blank check to be offended and cause the folks around them to refrain from using a word for any old reason whatsoever. For instance, there was a movement afoot to boot the words “niggardly” and “picnic” out of the language, based purely upon false etymologies. And I recall a story about a search committee a few years ago that was accused of being sexist because it used the word “dynamic” to describe the person they wanted to hire, and somebody thought dynamic was a code word for males. (I personally found that particular person’s offense to be offensive — all the most dynamic I’ve had have been women, and I think anyone who says women can’t be dynamic is pretty bigoted.)

    • says

      “Boot them out of the language” is a bit of an exaggeration.

      I barely remember the “picnic” incident, but I do remember the “niggardly” one. Before it happened, I wouldn’t have thought poorly of someone who happened to use the word in conversation. Since then, however, wingnuts who have never previously evinced any particular love for the language seem suspiciously invested in protecting this word. It’s become a dogwhistle, in other words, and it’s one I’m just as happy to avoid at this point, given that there are plentiful synonyms for “stingy” in English already.

      “Picnic” is nowhere near as, er, evocative-sounding as “niggardly,” and it fills much more of a lacuna in English, so I’d side-eye anyone seriously arguing for it not to be used. Then again, I’ve really not heard of same.

        • says

          It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve heard just about every word with some resemblance to a slur being used in such a manner.

          One of the low points of this phenomenon was a white couple who encouraged their very young kids to talk about “sparking wiggles,” and YouTube’d a video of them shouting, not entirely clearly due to their age, things like “Get a job, Sparking Wiggles!”

          (Anyone who doesn’t “get it” is welcome to go find the video on YouTube for themselves and watch it.)

        • Stubborn Blonde Warrior says

          I’m confused too… does that have another meaning besides being a British word for women’s underwear? 0.o

          • says

            It’s a Youtube video of a toddler who mispronounces “Sparking Wiggles” as “F**king N**gers”, you can imagine it is delightfully cute to see a little toddler shout “Get a job, Sparking Wiggles!” in our post-racial world :-P

  9. smrnda says

    On the word ‘niggardly.’ It is true that the word has a different origin than the n-word, but it sounds so similar that I wouldn’t use it or advise using it. Way too many white people like that word too much.

    Perhaps this is just me, but I’ve never felt paralyzed by fear of offending people, perhaps because for people I know, i make it clear that I don’t *want to* needlessly offend people (except people whose beliefs I want to mock, if I offend them, that’s the point.) Now and then I realize I’ve said or written something that might offend someone, or that I should be more sensitive to a population, and then I try to change. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to walk on eggshells.

    The problem is some people, if they’re offered the slightest suggestion that they might have said something they shouldn’t have, will just refuse to listen. “I didn’t MEAN to offend anyone therefore, I didn’t’ seems to be their motto.

    • Hunt says

      One needs to be intelligent about language use, particularly in potentially sensitive situations. I recall watching a talk show where a African American man raised his hand to object to a point and the host promptly announced, using not only horrible language choice, but also incorrect usage “We have a reneger!” Oh God, I almost died right there in my seat. I think she meant “dissenter.” You don’t always have to used correct language, but you do owe it to others to not be fucking stupid.

      • smrnda says

        It should also be worth noting that language itself can be biased and sexist (and I’ve actually studied the psychology of word associations a bit, so I’ve seen the research.) We use “Black” as an adjective for bad quite often (black days, black mark on your record, etc. )and we do have ‘black market’ which implies illegal. These might seem like pretty minor things, but they exert a degree of influence over people whether they are aware of it or not.

  10. rilian says

    This reminds of when someone on the internet got onto me for using the word “jew”. I never used to use that word.. it seemed offensive to me somehow, idk. But then a friend of mine who was jewish was always calling herself “a jew” so it rubbed off on me, and now I use “a jew” and “a jewish person” interchangeably. Anyway, do *you* find it offensive? Does it have offensive origins? I tried looking it up but couldn’t find anything.

    • says

      Wut? I’m Jewish and identify myself as a Jew. I’m also really active in Jewish communities IRL and have never heard anyone express any issues with being called “a Jew.”

      I think this is a good time to remind everyone that not everything that A Person On The Internet says in the name of Social Justice necessarily needs to be taken seriously, because people can have all kinds of individual issues and opinions that they may try to stick under a banner like that.

      My advice would be to talk to people who are affected by the issue at hand to see how they feel about it. Just like you just did with the word “Jew.”

      I think you’re completely fine.

    • randomrandom says

      “Jew”, due to the association of Jews with certain occupations in Medieval Europe (and well, the general Christian mythology about Jews) became a slur in the lips of Christians; it could be applied to someone you considered greedy, untrustworthy and so on, regardless of background (even the ethnonyms of other “Christian people” of a slightly different persuasion could be used in a similar manner but luckily most people don’t know the origins of “bugger”). IIRC, “Hebrew” was preferred over “Jew” in writing for a period precisely because the latter had acquired those secondary meanings.

      You can see “Jew” being used as a slur today too, on the wonderful internet: “you greedy Jew!” (why, anti-semitism is still with us – and I’m sorry if *I* sound offensive by exaggerating this usage, which is admittedly confined to slime pits; I’ve still seen it, unfortunately).

      So, I’m guessing that, due to all this, some people find “Jewish” less potentially offensive. Of course, it’s better to ask the people the words refer to and not just follow the orders of random internet policemen/women, as suggested above – no need to use workarounds if the people in question are ok with it; it’s possible that you’ll actually piss someone off more easily that way.

  11. says

    It’s a lot like those poly people out there who don’t experience jealousy. Like, ever (or at least, who haven’t yet experienced it ever). Not all of them are obnoxious about it, but there are a few who are, who act as though it means they’re better somehow. That holier-than-thou attitude is an easy way to spot people I’d never want to date, though, so I guess there’s that. Anyone who thinks not experiencing jealousy is a factor of being a better all-around human being is going to be woefully unprepared for it if they ever do encounter something that makes them jealous (which doesn’t always happen in such cases, but definitely happens enough that I tend to consider it worth being wary of), and I’m happy to not give such a person the chance to vomit that ineptitude all over me.

    • says

      Oh maaaaan I need to write about this sometime. I used to be an Extremely Jealous Person (back when I was monogamous), then I became Just A Little Bit Jealous (and became poly), and now with each passing day I have fewer and fewer feelings of jealousy. Good for me! But you know, I’m lucky. I’ve never been cheated on or abused by a partner, I’ve never been told by a partner that I’m worthless and they can find someone better. Obviously not everyone who has a lot of jealousy issues has gone through that, but many have, since jealousy tends to stem to a certain extent from feelings of inadequacy.

      I’m glad I’m so much less jealous now because it makes my life a lot easier, but I’m not going to delude myself into thinking that it makes me a “better” person somehow.

      • smrnda says

        I had to ask this on the whole poly deal. I’m not naturally a jealous person (I’m asexual and have been okay with people getting sex elsewhere), but I’m also monogamous, just since the relationship I’m in requires a pretty big investment, and I can’t see handling 2 possible partners any more than I could handle a 3rd job at present. To me, it’s less about jealousy and more ‘how will these relationships work out logistically?’ So to some extent I think it’s a mistake when everybody assumes that it’s jealousy that keeps people out of the polyamory world.

        • says

          Yeah, I definitely know plenty of non-jealous people (asexual and otherwise) who just aren’t interested in polyamory for various reasons. Since I’ve basically always been interested in more than one person at a time, I’ve always had the motivation to be poly, but it wasn’t always possible due to that intense jealousy. But obviously I’m just one case.

  12. bubba707 says

    You think you have problems now, just wait til you get old and language usage shifts again leaving you a bit behind current usage. You’ll quickly find out how vile and nasty humans really are.

    • resident_alien says

      …or you’ll stubbornly insist on calling black people “negroes” while your teenage daughter desperately tries to explain why exactly that term is not used anymore.You’ll ignore her,since you are the parent,the authority and automatically in the right.You’ll also embaress her when you’ll compliment her best friend with a foreign name and a darker skintone (born five months before her,in the same hospital,grew up a few blocks north) on how well she speaks “your” language …

        • Stubborn Blonde Warrior says

          Spoken like someone with no willingness to give a shit. You said above that language changes. And you know what? It does. Some people are willing to continue being respectful and considerate to other human beings, and some decide at the first sign of change isn’t worth it because Obviously If People Don’t Accept You Exactly As You Are Then They Suck. Guess what? Everybody has flaws. Everybody hurts people. We just asked nothing more than to fucking apologize like a decent person when you do so.

          Spare us your utterly lazy lack of empathy, please.

          • bubba707 says

            Another perfect example of what I mean by my post. You pile on a great deal of nonsense that wasn’t said and accuse your target of it. Grow up child.

        • resident_alien says

          Huh.Actually,I’ll be 34 in April.I was talking about my teenage years,which ended sometime ago.My father was born in 1939.By the way,have I mentioned that I’m German? Are older Germans who insist on holding on to the values and terminology of their youth (wink,wink,nudge nudge) also pooooor victims of those nasty young ‘uns? You are the one who is sheltered and who insists on being shelterd from changing realities.Nobody stops older people from learning from younger ones,except the older peolpe themselves.

  13. nohellbelowus says

    Personally, I’d like to live in a world where if someone hurts someone else with an ill-considered comment that serves no actual purpose, they’ll apologize and seriously consider not making such comments in the future rather than lording their Thick Skin and Maturity over the person they’ve accidentally hurt.

    Where is the line drawn? Who is the arbiter? And what happens when the apology isn’t forthcoming?

    A whole lot of nothing, that’s what happens.

    Now enter all the opportunists, who will somehow find offense in the “roaring of butterflies in the adjacent meadow” — to quote great P.G. Wodehouse.

    • says

      Where is the line drawn? Who is the arbiter? And what happens when the apology isn’t forthcoming?

      The line is drawn where I’m not going to spend time or form relationships with people who don’t respect my boundaries and who feel no empathy when they accidentally hurt me. Just about everyone accidentally hurts someone at some point; when made aware of that fact, some feel bad and apologize sincerely; others dig in and blame the other person.

      Absolutely nothing happens when the apology isn’t forthcoming, except that I cut that person out of my life. I’ve done it before and will continue doing so.

      This isn’t really that difficult to understand. “Don’t be an asshole” is a pretty basic rule that I do my best to live by, and prefer that the people I choose to associate with do the same.

  14. nohellbelowus says

    Thanks for the non-answer.

    Empty platitudes like “Don’t be an asshole” or “Don’t be a dick” are just meaningless insults that accomplish nothing, and are just as offensive as “Grow a thicker skin”.

    • says

      You’re welcome. I’m assuming you missed this part entirely:

      Just about everyone accidentally hurts someone at some point; when made aware of that fact, some feel bad and apologize sincerely; others dig in and blame the other person.

      The “asshole” would be the latter person, in case that’s not clear.

  15. nohellbelowus says

    Without an unbiased arbiter, it’s not clear at all.

    Try to think of offensive words as tabloid magazines you ignore in the checkout line at the supermarket. Or imagine they’re like religious threats of God’s impending wrath.

    Oh, almost forgot: I apologize profusely if you find those suggetions offensive.

    • says

      There’s no such thing as an “unbiased arbiter”; every single human being has bias and refusing to acknowledge that by pretending to be unbiased doesn’t serve anyone.

      It’s pretty clear to me, personally, when someone’s being an asshole about apologizing and when someone isn’t.

      For instance:

      “Hey, it’s really hurtful to me when you talk about ‘raping’ an exam or a video game because it reminds me of my own sexual assault. I know you don’t mean it that way, but please try not to say that around me.”
      “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize I was doing that. I’ll try to stop.”

      Versus:

      “Hey, it’s really hurtful to me when you talk about ‘raping’ an exam or a video game because it reminds me of my own sexual assault. I know you don’t mean it that way, but please try not to say that around me.”
      “Dude, it’s just a word. Get over it. Obviously I’m not actually saying it’s good to rape someone. Calm down.”

    • smrnda says

      The tabloid example seems to be a poor analogy. I can ignore tabloids, but the fact that other people do not and show more interest in tabloids than in legitimate news has a serious social impact in terms of a poorly informed electorate who are then unqualified to make decisions on public policy issues, or even determine what issues are relevant and require attention.

      I mean, I can ignore people who are racist, misogynistic, homophobic etc., but that’s pretending they don’t actually have an impact. Look into social psychology and yes, all this stuff does have a measurable effect.

  16. says

    Yeah, I used to think my capacity to Not Be Offended by things was a marker of greater rationality, patience and levelheadedness.

    I’m still not offended by lots of things, but I no longer attribute that to the above list of qualities so much as I attribute it to my not having any particular trauma associated with [whatever it is].

    • says

      Yeah. I think one thing people don’t realize all the time is that the same experience can actually be experienced very differently by different people. Some people experience sexual assault and just move on from it; others develop PTSD and suffer for years. Some people get bullied as children and mostly forget about it as soon as the bullying stops; others go through years of depression or self-hatred. Even if you went through a difficult experience and came out none the worse for wear, that doesn’t mean everyone is able (or should be able) to do the same thing.

  17. nohellbelowus says

    …I know you don’t mean it that way, but please try not to say that around me.

    I respect your idealism.

    I know this will sound callous, but someone claiming to be psychologically “hurt” just isn’t good enough hard evidence to start censoring language wholesale. If this kind of “hurt” could be quantitatively/scientifically measured in some manner, I might be convinced to change my mind. Until then, in my opinion freedom of expression is too important to compromise, even in the ostensibly “innocuous” (and anecdotal) manner you are suggesting.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying people aren’t hurt/traumatized by words. But if we are to be truly rational, we also have to account for people who are liars and manipulators.

    • says

      chaos_engineer said it all for me. People keep confusing the idea that we should try to be kind and empathic with the idea that we should “censor” speech. No. I’m assuming you wouldn’t, say, randomly tell someone that you think they’re fat or that you hate their haircut, and yet nobody complains that this is “censorship.”

  18. chaos_engineer says

    I know this will sound callous, but someone claiming to be psychologically “hurt” just isn’t good enough hard evidence to start censoring language wholesale.

    Who’s called for anyone to censor language wholesale? All I’m seeing here is call for people to follow a basic rule of etiquette that’s already been around for ages. I learned it as “You don’t talk about the price of rope in a house where there’s just been a hanging.”

    If this kind of “hurt” could be quantitatively/scientifically measured in some manner, I might be convinced to change my mind.

    Pain is traditionally measured via self-reporting. Just to pick a random example – when I go to a dentist and have local anesthesia, they’ll always ask “Can you feel this?” before they start drilling. If I’m not completely numb then they’ll wait a bit longer or give me an extra dose of novocaine. This kind of self-reporting isn’t perfect, but it’s better than any of the alternatives I can think of.

    Until then, in/ my opinion freedom of expression is too important to compromise, even in the ostensibly “innocuous” (and anecdotal) manner you are suggesting.

    Well, yes, there are situations where freedom of expression needs to trump good manners.

    But if you’re looking for validation from me, I’d need a clearer understanding of what kind of rude behavior you want to engage in and what positive goal you’re trying to accomplish with it.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying people aren’t hurt/traumatized by words. But if we are to be truly rational, we also have to account for people who are liars and manipulators.

    I’m not sure I follow you. I mean, OK, someone comes up to me and complains about the price of rope, and I lie and say that my grandmother hung herself last week and that I don’t want to talk about it. If he’s truly rational (and polite), then he’ll apologize, and then either change the subject or leave and find somebody else to discuss rope with. I understand that I’m being a liar and a manipulator if I do that, but I don’t understand why I’d want to do it to begin with. Is this the sort of thing that happens to you often? All I can say is, in the long run, liars like that usually get exposed and disgraced.

  19. smrnda says

    What was that with the ‘liars and manipulators’ comment (from 18). You mean members of marginalized groups who only pretend to have been hurt by insensitive remarks? This reminds me of the old idea that you get in some old literature that women just cry or act hurt to manipulate men, or the whole phrase ‘cried like a serving girl’ from Henry James – the whole idea that a lower-class woman can only be an insincere manipulator and that any feelings from her should be discounted totally as pure performance, probably just to get out of work she ought to be doing for her upper-class exploiter.

  20. nohellbelowus says

    All I’m seeing here is call for people to follow a basic rule of etiquette that’s already been around for ages.

    Well then we’re not seeing the same picture. The devil is in the details, after all. Generalized platitudes regarding etiquette are not helpful, and the vast majority of people already agree with them anyway.

    Well, yes, there are situations where freedom of expression needs to trump good manners.

    This comment doesn’t even begin to explain why freedom of expression is of paramount importance in our society. In fact it seems to trivialize it.

    It’s not trivial to me!

    We’re just primates grunting sound waves from our pie-holes. Not bullets — sound waves. (Or keystrokes on a keyboard.) I truly believe people can train themselves to parse the good and ignore the bad. But it takes practice, and the practice is painful. The internet hasn’t been around that long, at least in the larger perspective, and surely skins are already getting thicker by the month.

    • Aunolin says

      nohellbelowus: I’M NOT OFFENDED BY PEOPLE BEING OFFENDED SO WHY ARE YOU

      Seriously though, I’m not sure why you’re wasting time telling people not to care about other people’s feelings when you could just, erm, train yourself to parse the good and ignore the bad. Evangelical apathy doesn’t really help anyone, and it’s just increasing worldsuck. You still haven’t said anything about what communicative benefit you are gaining from ignoring norms of polite communication; if there is ANY benefit other than not having to take two seconds to phrase something less offensively, it might help in convincing us that you are not just being selfish and rude.

  21. says

    Well, it’s a bit like people who say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. They forget that:
    A) There’s the alternative of being killed
    B) No, being stronger isn’t the most logical consequence.
    Being broken is much more likely.
    Nobody would say that if you survive your broken leg you’ll run faster afterwards.

  22. jackiepaper says

    Ms. Daisy cutter, I’m happy for you that it doesn’t bother you to have ableist slurs thrown around, but it does hurt me. Loaded language does mold people’s attitudes toward people who already have enough to deal with without the casual ableism of others being constant background noise in their lives.

  23. nohellbelowus says

    The best analogy I can come up with (in the twenty seconds of consideration I’m giving your post) is a radio: I’m trying to tune-in the stations clearly, and get rid of all that annoying (and useless) static.

  24. nohellbelowus says

    I can ignore tabloids, but the fact that other people do not and show more interest in tabloids than in legitimate news has a serious social impact in terms of a poorly informed electorate who are then unqualified to make decisions on public policy issues, or even determine what issues are relevant and require attention

    Exactly. Here is your quote, with simple substitutions:

    I can ignore insults, but the fact that other people do not and show more interest in petty insults than in legitimate news has a serious social impact in terms of a poorly informed electorate who are then unqualified to make decisions on public policy issues, or even determine what issues are relevant and require attention

  25. nohellbelowus says

    And my reply was that I needed better evidence than “psychological hurt”. Watching too much Twilight also has an “impact” on people, but I don’t hear any calls for changing the (inane) dialogue on that TV show.

    • says

      Really?! Feminists and others talk about the problematic aspects of Twilight all the time. I’ve even written about it on this blog within the last few weeks. People are always writing and talking about what the Twilight films teach about love and relationships and how that can be harmful. My school’s sexual education group is even considering developing a presentation on this exact subject.

  26. nohellbelowus says

    I’m sorry, must have missed your riveting blog about Twilight, for some strange reason.

    Okay that’s a bit snarky.

    But since you’re bringing up anecdotes, please allow me to inform you that I, as a human being, feel the pain you’re referring to. Yes, I have my triggers. Yes, I’ve been discriminated against, and thrown out of good, high-paying jobs for just being me, even as my work is being praised. I HATE when people offend me with their words.

    Do I think any of my pain is worth abridging free expression?

    No.

    My position remains: work on your own head, and I’ll work on mine. Leave free expression free.

    • says

      Again, nobody’s free expression is being abridged. You are free to be nasty to people as long as you accept that this may cause them to dislike you and/or to stop associating with you. They are free to do that, just as I’m free to provide advice to people on how to prevent people from disliking you and refusing to associate with you, and just as you’re free not to read my blog if you don’t like the advice I’m providing on it.

      I see you haven’t addressed my point about stereotype threat. You should consider addressing it.

    • says

      I HATE when people offend me with their words.

      Do I think any of my pain is worth abridging free expression?

      No.

      I’m confused, do you want people to avoid using that language around you or not?

      Because if you hate it in capital letters, that sounds like you want them to avoid it. But you also appear to think wanting them to avoid it is “abridging [their] free expression.”

  27. nohellbelowus says

    Telling an ape not to grunt something is advocating the censorship of certain ape grunts. I find that idea to be highly questionable, and the research to be highly questionable.

    What was your point about stereotype threat? Give me the executive summary. I’m three seconds away from exiting this merry-go-round…

    • says

      I linked to a wiki article about it that gives a good summary, so I see no reason to rephrase it. You can click on the link; it’s at the end of my blog post.

      Do you vocalize every thought you have about another person, including what you think of their appearance, outfit, job, and so on? If not, guess what–you’re already “censoring” yourself. This is a basic aspect of functioning in polite society.

  28. nohellbelowus says

    Wiki article: pass thanks

    If a person had self-confidence and ape-grunt training, they wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about any characterization I made.

    Self-censorship? LOL Okay, time to go. Thanks for your responses!

  29. nohellbelowus says

    You refuse to impart to me your understanding of the article, via a brief synopsis? Not very scholarly (or bloggerly) of you. Sounds suspiciously like an Argument from Authority…

    • says

      I’m a full-time student and I don’t have time to summarize a summary for you. I’m not asking you to read a 100-page dissertation. Argument from Authority would be saying that because I study psychology, you should agree with me. On the contrary, I’ve literally pointed you to the research; your refusal to read it says more about you than about me.

      If you continue in this vein, I’ll probably ban you, because you’re no longer making coherent arguments or saying anything of value. You’re not going to succeed in getting a rise out of me, so you might as well stop trying and either read the suggested research or leave. This has become more boring than my grad school applications, and that’s really saying something.

  30. smrnda says

    Wow nohellbelows, you totally missed my point. You seem to be arguing that there are these Big Issues, and little things like say, discouraging misogynistic or racist language or rape jokes is this silly thing because it distracts from Big Picture issues like say, racism and sexism. I mean, rape jokes aren’t the problem, actual rape is, and no way that a bunch of guys who spend their time making rape jokes has *anything to do* with actual rapes taking place.

    Also, you totally missed the whole tabloid point. If people read tabloids instead of real news, this is a problem. If young people are looking to Twilight to figure out how relationships are supposed to work, that’s a problem.

    Given that I’ve spent years studying these issues in social psychology, I can chalk you up to basically deliberate ignorance, and probably some privileged indifference. The empirical evidence you demand actually exists. Go look into the field.

    Also, free expression means you can say what you want, but it also means that others are free to criticize it.

    On the ‘petty insults,’ petty insults (like using racial slurs, etc.) are part of the conditioning people engage in in order to be more callous towards outgroup members. In any military engagement since WWII, with the success of the word “Jap” the military always designates a term for the enemy. I recall reading a Korean war biography “The Four Deuces” where, among other things, the writer commented that calling the Koreans “gooks” made them much easier to kill.

    As you’ve said you’ve been discriminated against, do you think if people sat around, mocking members of your demographic all day, that this could impact how they treat you when they run into you?

  31. nohellbelowus says

    LOL Don’t worry, I’ll self-ban. But before I go:

    Even if I did read the article, don’t you think it would be worth discussing? And once we started discussing it, don’t you think your interpretation of its conclusions are salient to our discussion?

    I’m merely asking you to go first, in other words. If your explanation sounded intriguing and convincing, then I’d be much more inclined to spend time on it. No offense, but your reluctance is a bit odd. Did YOU read it?

    I’m sorry you find interaction with your commenters boring. Unfortunately in this particular case, I think the subject matter of your post is what is truly boring.

    Oh… and I apologize if you find that offensive.

    • says

      When people discuss an article, they both need to have read it. Attendance at dozens of discussion sections at college has firmly convinced me of this fact. It’s a short wiki article, and there’s no good reason for you to refuse to read it.

  32. nohellbelowus says

    Also, free expression means you can say what you want, but it also means that others are free to criticize it

    Bingo. So restricting ape-grunts seems a bit ridiculous, yes?

    And I’d love to stay and chat, but my time on Brutal Reasoning is up.

    • says

      Except nobody’s “restricting” anyone’s speech, and nobody has suggested restricting anyone’s speech.

      You’ve now announced your imminent departure from this comment section so many times that I’m starting to wonder if you’re being earnest. What gives? :)

  33. nohellbelowus says

    Last one:

    Our discussion of the article in-question would take WAY longer than you typing up a short summary, so don’t expect me to buy your “busy” excuse.

    Ciao forever.

    • says

      By this point, yes. I expected you to read the article when I first suggested it. Since you never gave a good reason for your refusal to read it, I wasn’t about to capitulate to your silly demands. What sort of precedent would that set, hm?

  34. smrnda says

    I’m not sure what point nohellbelowus is making with all the ape-grunt deal. I’m not for restricting them (whatever they are), just exposing them as (quite likely) insensitive idiocy which expresses nothing significant, and that perhaps the simians ape-grunting in the circle might be making themselves less capable of any sort social consciousness or necessary empathy. If a behavior might lead to harmful behavior, I will critique it.

      • smrnda says

        If nohellbelowus would just ditch the phrase ‘ape grunt’ and perhaps use examples of specific types of behavior and language they think people are over-reacting to then their points might actually make sense.

  35. says

    On the flip side of “Don’t be offended” is “Why aren’t you offended?” (Or otherwise implying that I -should- be offended by something that, to me, isn’t worth the time or energy to get upset over.)

    I’m disabled.

    And I am baffled by the way some able-bodied people trip all over themselves to be “PC” and “un-offensive” and “sensitive”, using euphemistic terms like “special needs”, and describing us as “people with disabilities” like somehow, you know, our disabilities and struggles didn’t shape us and aren’t therefore just as much a part of our identity as being black or christian or atheist or gay. I am disabled. I am not “handi-capable” (okay, I appreciate the word-play in that one), “differently abled” (dafuq is that supposed to mean?), nor do I have “special needs” (waaay to “precious snowflake” for my tastes), I am not fragile, and your vague euphemisms aren’t helpful because every disabled person, each and every individual diagnosis is unique.

    And I’ve had able-bodied people respond to that by taking offense at my offense, pretty well boiling down to an attitude of “you’re disabled, you’re not supposed to have opinions, just let the able-bodied ‘allies’ take care of everything…”

    Anyway, this ties together because, um, I don’t wanna be told what I “ought to” be offended by, and I’m gonna give others the same respect by not telling them what they should (or shouldn’t) find offensive, because it isn’t my place to dictate what you like or dislike.

  36. thetalkingstove says

    If a person had self-confidence and ape-grunt training, they wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about any characterization I made.

    And if a person doesn’t have self-confidence…tough? You’re just going to say what you like and fuck ‘em if they can’t deal with it, it’s not your problem? It’s good to know you won’t make any small effort to limit the harm careless language can cause, because PRECIOUS FREE SPEECH. Great.

  37. says

    I think people choose to be offended and they can, if they wish, choose not to be. I couldn’t give a stuff about people being offended. I really do think that an awful lot of the time “I’m offended by that” is used to try and validate a whinge about something someone doesn’t like or doesn’t agree with.
    Having said that, I think that where “I’m offended” actually has meaning is when people mean “I’m hurt by that” and/or “I’m angry.” And those are things I do have time for. I don’t give a shit if I offend people – but I would not want to knowingly hurt someone and I don’t often want to anger people.
    Several of the comments here are giving examples of “offensive” behaviour but the commenters haven’t talked about saying they were offended; they’ve said they were hurt. Hurt, to me, is more meaningful and deserving of respect and apology and corrective action than “offence.” I think “offence” is too often hijacked by people who are just annoyed that their world-view and their privilege is being challenged.

    • says

      Yeah, I think this is kind of what I was trying to get at in the post where I said that it’s not a very precise word. “Offended” is also what people get when someone makes fun of religion, and it’s what people call it when someone calls them a racial slur. But these things are not equivalent to me.

      • says

        Yeah. It’s a hard one to debate without risking people thinking you’re heartless if you say you’re not bothered about “offended.” I think the word is too generic, and it would be useful if people were more specific about their feelings – hurt, angry, disappointed, or just outraged that someone criticised something they like.

  38. scenario says

    Apologising when you hurt someone is common curtesy.

    I tend to group offensive words into three categories.

    1) Words that society generally agrees are offensive. Slang words for certain body parts or ethnic groups would fall under this category.

    2) Words in common use that are offensive to certain groups or in certain usages. To uses two examples from above, some people are justifiably hurt by the word crazy, others in similar circumstance are not. Most people are not offended by the word Jew when it is just a description. I didn’t know that a Joe was a jew is different than that guy tried to jew me down on the price.

    3) Common words that are painful for one person for very personal reasons. This is the only instance where it may be ok to say, you’ve got to get over it. I.e. a person who gets angry or burst into tears whenever they see a hammer or hear the word and they work in a hardware store. They have a choice of doing something to get over the pain of seeing a hammer or getting a new job.

    The problem is that some people try to put examples from category one and two into the extremely rare category three. It’s tough to remember avoid saying happy birthday around the one person you ever met whose offended by the term. It’s not difficult to avoid using a word that a significant number of people around you would be offended by.

  39. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    In fact, because they’re Not Offended, they think that nobody else should be offended by the thing they’re Not Offended by, either.

    In fact, as nohellbelowus has so clearly demonstrated, they are Deeply Offended by the fact that other people are so offended.

  40. says

    Great article, although I have a problem with the notion that people can’t change what they’re offended by. (Not siding with people who are making rape jokes or anything.) Obviously it is tough to change emotions, but one of the things i’ve learned in life is how to deconstruct a lot of emotions like useless anger, especially since emotions are often informed by culture or evolution or the brain being a confused shit rather than an accurate depiction of one’s relationship to the world. A lot of the times, these reactions can be broken down.

    Now, obviously that doesn’t really apply to someone getting offended at being called a “faggot” and such, but it does apply to things like people being offended at homosexuality being put in a positive light. People being offended can be a really bullshit response which needs to be shifted. Another example: Nationalists being offended at their country’s faults being depicted accurately. There are times when being offended is a poor emotional reaction which should be deconstructed.

    Sorry if my comment is horrendously bullshit in some way which I don’t realize. Thank you for your articles, especially “Why You Shouldn’t Tell That Random Girl On The Street That She’s Hot”.

Trackbacks

  1. […] But some people never experience that feeling either because they don’t experience much marginalization or because their brains just work differently (I have many extremely patient female, LGBTQ, PoC, and/or disabled friends who don’t mind engaging with those who are prejudiced against them). It is sometimes difficult for them to understand that others do experience that feeling (or even what that feeling is) and that that doesn’t make others “worse” than them somehow. […]