Our culture seems consumed with reaction rather than reflection. Here’s what Facebook users and social media mobs need to remember about what’s offensive.
If your childhood was anything like mine you heard this one more than once: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” It was most likely taught to you as a fitting retort to those who would tease or say unkind things.
It’s puzzling, then, how many of today’s adults seem to have forgotten it. You know the drill: someone says something someone else doesn’t like. Offense is taken and indignation expressed. Sometimes an apology follows, sometimes not. When it happens in the public eye, the media get involved and talking heads weigh in with their various opinions. Even the average citizen who is not in the public eye can by virtue of one utterance find himself in the middle of a good ol’ knock-down-drag-out Facebook fight. In the end, though, not much is accomplished except that we have catalogued another example of what must not be said for fear of offending someone.
What It Takes to Be Offensive
This leads me to wonder: what does it actually mean to be offensive? These days it doesn’t seem to take much. A few years ago, I was taken to task on an email list for referring to a person who has Asperger Syndrome as an “Aspie.” Never mind that one of my children has AS, affording me what I thought was a measure of understanding of the topic. Nonetheless, I was told that in using such a moniker I was being insensitive and disrespectful to my own child. That was news to both of us, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. These days it takes very little to cause offense.