Monday, 27 May 2013

Taking Offence

Words have power! Anyone who's heard a speech from a great orator, or been moved to tears by well written song lyrics or poetry, or been offended in an argument knows this to be an indesputable fact.

Another indesputable fact, to quote the often neglected Voltare, is that "with great power comes great responsibility" (appologies, Stan Lee, I'm a huge fan but it was Voltare's quote originally.)
 Inevitably, this means that we all have a responsibility for what we say. But just how much responsibility do we have over the feelings of others?

As it says in my disclaimer, I am a firm believer that offence is more often taken than it is given, that when we feel offended we have more responsibility for those feelings than the person whose words or actions caused them. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, some things are said, out of anger, ignorance or sheer bigotry, that are purposefully and wilfully offensive.

It is an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that the things we find most offensive are the things that most highlight what we perceive as faults or weaknesses within ourselves. It is this that makes us able to laugh off some insults as just narrow minded judgements while other barbed words find their way right to our nerves.

A perfect example of this can be found in this excellent post by fellow blogger, Christian: Here

I would not say that it is unreasonable to point out that having an act of worship for one particular religion as a compulsory part of the daily school routine is a rather distasteful idea. Faith (or lack thereof), as I have said before, is a personal matter and while most people would have nothing against an individual choosing to pray if they felt the need, making such an act compulsory, especially for any one specific religion, is bound to be divisive. Not only does it denigrate the status of anyone who doesn't follow that religion, it also gives support to the more distasteful and bigoted view espoused by it, regardless of how moderate the follower. Not exactly ideal in an environment we would hope to be teaching our children to be tolerant and understanding of all religious and cultural differences.

Yet it is often the case that people take offence when this is pointed out, not because they are incapable of seeing the logical reasoning behind it but purely because it makes them question themselves. Most people don't want to consider themselves in terms of causing hurt to others.
But who bears the responsibility for this offence? 

Let's look at another example:

There was a recent case where a councillor in Cornwall sparked outrage by stating that disabled children put too much financial burden on government finances and should be put down. When I first heard this, I did, as the mother of a child with autism, I found his comments to be offensive. It was only by looking into my views and opinions that I was able to write them off as the ignorant bigotry they are because I place a far higher value on life than I do on money.

Again, who bears the responsibility for this offence?

Whatever your views and opinions, by silencing dissenting views and trying to make certain that some subjects and words are seen as taboo all we achieve is  granting greater power to those words and subjects that do us harm. We make them enticingly dangerous and secretive to those who feel neglected and marginalised and we shield those most vulnerable from them, preventing them from forming the thicker skin and coping strategies that protect them from the unfortunately incurable ignorance and discrimination that is a harsh reality of the real world. 

Perhaps we would be better to look within ourselves when we feel offended. To see if those barbs have a point. Is the fault or weakness we perceive within ourselves really a problem or is the real problem the attitudes of those who criticise them? If there is an issue within ourselves, are we willing to accept it as part of who we are or will we work to change it? Either way, by accepting or by changing, we are disempowering those words and subjects from having any influence upon us.


  1. Thanks for the link :)

    This is an interesting read as it reminds me of the whole subjective morality debate as well. What is wrong or what is right...often we just need a thicker skin and some rational thought.

  2. No probs :) thanks for letting me reference your post!

    I'm glad you say that as I did want to touch on the subject of subjective morality but didn't want to go into it too much as I plan to incorporate it into another post. (I guess that's been put on a back burner now though, as I have a few other posts in mind after my recent twitter activities, so many opinions, so little time, lol)