‘I’m offended’ is a meaningless term

Maybe it is just that I have  grown up a bit and am now less oblivious than before, but it seems to me that the movement to be more politically correct has gained tremendous traction in recent years. It seems to have gotten to the point that everything said and done has to conform to some standard of non-offence so that the greatest number of people can be pleased.

While I completely understand and support the necessity to be sensitive and considerate (especially in public life), I cannot help but feel that there is sometimes a line, however arbitrary and subjective, between political correctness and just plain silliness.

I do support politically correct things that a lot of people find petty, like the campaign to restore the Canadian national anthem to  gender neutral terms. If changing “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command” is such a small issue, then there really shouldn’t be a problem in changing it, should there? You would think that an important emblem of our nationality should be sung in inclusive gender-neutral terms, and that most people would be  okay with this. If we are talking about tradition, maybe we should consider that our national anthem was already created in gender-neutral terms before it was changed to its current form in 1913.

What does get me, however, is the hyper-sensitivity that surrounds private discourse. The argument that the speaker has the onus to ensure that whatever they says does not cause offence I find to be particularly troublesome. Offence is taken, not caused.

When Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, it incited such a furor that the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill him for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed. Rushdie subsequently went into hiding for the better part of a decade, and about his ordeal he had one  thing to say: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

Perhaps it is not the words themselves that one should take exception to, but the nature or intent in which they were spoken. In which case, it still makes no sense to be offended by a racist person who would probably either get defensive amidst the rush of self-righteous scolding, or simply laugh it off. Nor does it make sense to be offended by someone who never meant to cause offence.

If we want to change racist or misogynistic attitudes, even among people who say things that they are not aware are problematic—like ‘all of the black girls I’ve met are so sassy!’—being self-righteous and offended is an ineffective way of going about it. Scolding someone for their ignorance is ridiculous—let’s just communicate our disagreement and leave it at that.

The most insidious (and annoying) form of this social limiting of freedom of speech, however, happens when someone says that they are offended and expects the other person to immediately apologize and retract their statement. It seems apt to end on the words of the wonderful Stephen Fry:

“It’s now very common to hear people say ‘I’m rather offended by that’ as if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually … no more than a whine … It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that’—well, so fucking what?”

– See more at: http://argosy.ca/article/%E2%80%98i%E2%80%99m-offended%E2%80%99-meaningless-term#sthash.9LOyGk2a.dpuf

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