Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Seduction of Offense

As easygoing as I am, there are still many things in the world that prompt my "offense" reflex.  I am easily offended by any kind of violence against children or people who are in any other ways vulnerable:  those with mental illnesses, the sick, aged, and infirm.  Hell, I'm even offended when people of color are shot to death by vigilantes.  (Note the sarcasm, here) Other offenses include stupidity that affects people who would, under normal circumstances, have a reasonable expectation of being treated decently as they go about their jobs.

This last includes people with compromised immune systems who must go to work and are exposed to vintage diseases like measles, mumps, or whooping cough by anti-vaxxers.  Or people drawing distasteful cartoons who get killed in murderous attacks.  Or people in schools in Pakistan or here or anywhere else in the world going about their business of teaching children and get fire-bombed or gunned down.

Those things are just damned fucking offensive.  Oh-is the use of the word "fucking" offensive?  Well.  That begs a question.

I may decide to use that word for emphasis, for underscoring an emotion, to shock, or just to let the reader know that the level of offense I feel is of a much greater degree than than the type of offense I may experience in a different situation.  That's my business and I have learned as time has gone by I am just not concerned at all how you might cringe when you read that word.  As some wise person
somewhere, once said, "What you think of me is none of my business."

Things you say may offend me, too...You may say a woman wearing a short skirt deserved to be cat-called (say, what?) or that a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist should have stopped making cartoons of Mohammed in order to stay below the terrorists' radar.

That's all right.  It's truly all right if you are offended or I am offended or if some guy half a world away or down the street is offended.  You, I, and he have the right to be offended.  BUT, here's what we don't have the right to do:

We don't have the right to harm one another over what we've said, thought, written, filmed, taken pictures of, blogged, debated, or sneezed.  We are a world full of people, many of whom don't think like we do, who draw things,say things, think things, write things, film things, take pictures of things, and sneezed at things which offend SOMEONE. It stands to reason that at some point, each of us will be heartily offended at SOMETHING.  It would be impossible not to run across such things.

Sigh.  Whatever shall we do.  (You have to imagine this being said in the voice of the heroine in the old melodramas, as Sweet Nell is presented with the foreclosure notice by the evil villain landlord)

What.  Shall.  We do.

Jesus, (in whom many people don't believe and that is not relevant here-believe or don't) once said something to the effect "If someone slaps your face, turn your head and offer them the other side too."*  What he didn't say was that the shame falls to the attacker, as has happened in the court of world opinion as the outcome of the Charlie Hebdo attack.  Oh, my.

He was saying, "Look.  We can decide how we want to respond.  For my money, show the other guy that you aren't going to rise to the bait.  Back away and let the tension fall off."   All right, that's not precisely what he said, but he might have.  Had he spoken English, I bet he would've put it that way.

And here's what he definitely didn't say but if he were the central character in a distasteful cartoon or something he just might, "Chill the fuck out.  It's all about HIM, not about YOU.  Don't sweat it." Not impossible to imagine.  So think about it....

I can get as offended as I want to about things, and there are times when I do.  I can't always offer the other cheek unconcernedly but I know you can't either.

But we don't murder people over it.  We don't attack each other's villages, we don't burn newspapers, shoot up schools, lynch people, or car bomb over it.  You still get to say as much as you fucking want, and I get to say as much as I fucking want.

We could wish that the other one would simply shut the fuck up.  But there's something better, something that's easier to do, than to try to shut each other the fuck up.

Turn the other cheek.  It's our right, it's our right to turn that cheek and walk away EVERY BIT AS MUCH as saying the offensive thing, drawing the offensive cartoon, writing the offensive blog, showing the offensive film, or any of the rest of it.  Are you offended?  You have the right to walk away and let the universe (God, Ka, the Higher Power, whatever) absorb that awful feeling.  It leaves us free to respond intelligently, humorously, tenderly, gently, broad-mindedly, and any other way we may care to.  We have that freedom.

We give ourselves more freedom if we resist the seduction of offense.


Matthew 5:38-42New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Concerning Retaliation

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

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