Thursday, December 1, 2016

Taking Offence

Remember pet rocks? It was a fad some years ago. There were people who (usually) bought rocks with leads attached and took them for walks.  Some even came with 'nests'. They were dense of course; the people as well as the rocks. Well that fad died out  as fads do but the same sort of people - the dense ones - went on to other fads, such as 'being offended'. 
Some people could not cough up the money for a rock and used potatoes instead. That 'caused offence' to the rock people. It has become the epidemic du jour (just like using french words when perfectly serviceable English ones could be used - but for the French using those) with people being offended at the mention of certain words - which change and multiply by the day. Almost anything will do to be offended by.  

I am pretty sure you could not get away with taking a pet rock of this colour or that for a walk these days without some dork having conniptions and demanding a 'safe space'; or condemning you for having a 'black' rock or even a multicoloured one. Or a spud.

You would have to be stopped.

People are offended by words:  the 'Redskins' football team for example had to change the name because 'some people' were offended. Or so they said they were. 
In reality, taking offence has become weaponised. 

They blame YOU.

Thay want YOU to suffer because they have taken offence.

Jeff Jacoby tried to explain what to do. I have to admit that while I fully understood, even practiced what he preached, I still find it difficult not to occasionally whack some annoying offence-taker around the arse with the flat of my sword. I would, of course, explain to them as I did so that 'Arse' is a fine English word with a sound provenance in poetry.

But.... to Jeff. He told us:
OF THE PRAYERS that observant Jews recite each day, the one I appreciate most is offered before going to bed. Here is how it begins:

"Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or sinned against me — whether physically or financially or through disrespect, or in any other matter affecting me; whether involuntarily or willfully, carelessly or deliberately; whether by word or by deed. I forgive every person: let no one incur punishment because of me."
Yes, I get it. 'Tis best to go to bed and rest easy rather than stew in one's own distress. Perhaps he could tell the offence-takers that. Nevertheless I still harbour a small, nagging desire to see them stew and in a lot more than just distress. But, at least he hasn't completely won the day in himself yet.

But he had more to say, and topical too, so let's hear him out. 
Less Frank Costanza, more Mike Pence

One of the rules I try to live by is not to take offense when no offense is intended. A corollary to that rule is to presume, whenever possible, that no offense was intended. 
This is not, I admit, a discipline I've mastered perfectly.
But it's not as hard as you might think. Make a daily point of affirming that you harbor no ill will, and you tend not to smolder with resentment and unresolved umbrage. At a time when Americans by the millions seem to go out of their way to keep themselves in a state of high dudgeon, choosing not to be offended can be wonderfully refreshing.

Not taking offense isn't the same as not having pet peeves. (I've got a bunch of those.) Nor does it mean never condemning shameful, foolish, or destructive behavior.  It does mean recognizing that being offended is always a choice, and that other people's words and views can bend you out of shape only if you choose to let them have that effect.
And if we are a bit bent out of shape, get peeved or give in to our 'Fight of Flight' urges - particularly the Fight one - we should take note.....
This isn't a column about politics, but during last week's "Hamilton" kerfuffle, Vice President-elect Mike Pence provided a pitch-perfect demonstration of how not to take offense. 
Rather than bristle and fume when he was booed by audience members and pointedly addressed by the cast during the curtain call, Pence took it all with gracious equanimity. "I wasn't offended," he said afterward. He praised the "great, great show" and the "incredibly talented" cast, and made clear that actor Brandon Dixon's impassioned statement from the stage didn't trouble him or require any apology.

"I nudged my kids," Pence told Fox News, "and reminded them, 'That's what freedom sounds like.'"

And that, in turn, is what a mature emotional perspective sounds like. It would be nice to encounter more of it in our national discourse.
Unfortunately, picking at scabs has become a national pastime. Americans have lost their ability to shrug off other people's obnoxious comments or insensitive gestures or politically incorrect views. 
Instead of rolling their eyes and letting it pass, they proclaim: "I'm offended." 
They demand apologies. They insist on "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces." 
They howl about "microaggressions" and whinge about "mansplaining" and compile lists of banned words. When they get offended, they expect heads to roll or companies to be blackballed. They even take offense on behalf of people who don't take offense.

Remember Frank Costanza? He was the character on "Seinfeld" who invented Festivus, an idiosyncratic family holiday commemorated with a dinner, an aluminum pole, feats of strength, and — the high point — an Airing of Grievances. "I got a lot of problems with you people!" bellows Costanza to those at his Festivus table. "And now you're gonna hear about it!"

It was funny as a sitcom shtick. As a national pastime, perpetual outrage is exhausting and debilitating. America could do with a little less Frank Costanza and a little more Mike Pence.
Waxing wroth when we're offended may feel temporarily satisfying, but the weight of all those chips on our shoulders does long-term damage. 
"In my work treating alcoholics," writes Abraham Twerski, a psychiatrist and founder of the renowned Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, there is "great emphasis on divesting oneself of resentments," since "resentments are probably the single greatest factor responsible for relapse." Twerski quotes one recovering alcoholic's insight: "Carrying resentments is like letting someone who you don't like live inside your head rent-free." No lasting benefit comes from that, but all kinds of misery do.

In a society that often seems to thrive on taking offense — just turn on talk radio, or read an online comments section, or follow Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren on Twitter — 
it can't be overemphasized that nursing a grievance is always optional. 
You may not be able to control other people's opinions, ignorance, bad jokes, or political loyalties. But you alone determine how you react to them.

Everyone knows the biblical injunction to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Less well known is the first half of the verse: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge." 
That's excellent counsel, for believers and nonbelievers alike.
It is not as though there are no good models for adult behaviour. We have politicians like Mr Pence that we might look to with hope. Not that he is the usual sort though.

Here in Oz we have politicians that really do beong in safe spaces. We really do need to construct some, well away from normal people, just to keep these loony flowers in.  An example?

Prof. JJ, explained a little about a recent election in Oz.
NSW has a Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, the name of which is self-explanatory.  They mainly want an easing of gun laws but you can see similarities with Trump and other recent uprisings against political correctness.  They have previously got seats in the NSW Upper House only -- with the help of proportional representation.  Now that they have taken a lower house seat it is therefore quite an upset
An upset for some in particular.
Another Trump/Brexit/Hanson event and the Australian Greens have a fit
The NSW MPs of the Australian Greens have chucked one of the most childish and immature tantrums ever seen in any Australian Parliament, after Orange elected Mr Phillip Donato from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFFP).
The three Greens MPs including Tamara Smith, Jenny Leong and Jamie Parker have announced they do not want to sit with the newly elected MP from the SFFP.  Resorting to behaviour better suited to your local primary school, they have asked that Mr Donato be seated with the Labor MPs.
Ms Leong who has clearly been triggered by this event has spoken out and declared that Mr Donato should sit “with his Labor mates,” a swipe at Labor for preferencing the SFFP over the Greens in the by-election. It is clear to see that the Greens are deeply and emotionally scarred by the tragic preferencing deal.
The people have spoken and it is time for the greens to take a big spoonful of cement and harden up.  Our parliaments are not places for the weak hearted.
Perhaps they need some toughening-up lessons, lest others start to dish it out too.

We don'y hold grudges because that only upsets our digestion. People take offence at us and what we say and do, regardless of what we say and do. It does not matter what we say and do.

They will take offence.

Like in Canada, for instance, where you cannot even have a party where everyone is supposed to get pissed and fall over, without someone getting mightily offended, eh?  Gary Mason alerted us.

Queen’s controversy:

Sometimes a monk costume is just a monk costume
"Cultural appropriation" in Canada
A group of students at Queen’s University is the target of vitriolic attacks for attending an off-campus costume party at which the theme was “Countries of the World.” Among other things, the mostly white participants dressed up as Buddhist monks, Middle Eastern sheiks, Viet Cong fighters and Rastafarians.

Toronto comedian Celeste Yim came across pictures from the event and was immediately incensed, branding the behaviour of the students “shockingly racist” “offensive” and “tasteless.” Things went crazy from there. Predictably, the Queen’s administration quickly condemned the party, and said it was investigating.
To which I ask: Investigating what?
When did going to a costume party become a racist activity?  

I’ve attended many in my life, certainly lots in my twenties, where people of varied ethnic backgrounds (and sometimes not) dressed up in all sorts of crazy ways, depicting people of all racial makeups. A friend who is black once donned Lederhosen for an Oktoberfest bash. Today that would be cultural theft, I suppose.
Should I have felt wronged when a neighbour of Chinese descent showed up for a Halloween party dressed as a “Canadian hoser,” replete with red plaid over-shirt, tuque, and a couple of missing front teeth? I doubt there was a soul in the house thinking, “Way to perpetuate a negative stereotype.”
I understand that lines can be crossed; jokes, sometimes in the form of costumes, fall flat or are just plain offensive. At the same time, I think we need to be extremely careful about making a distinct connection between what we witnessed at Queen’s and overt racism.
The exhortation... 'Father, forgive them: they know not what they do', extends a lot further than that specific moment. Most people can, at times, be as thick as two short planks. Many are young. That in itself, along with its attendant sheer ignorance of anything of note, is cause enough to forgive them, or at least overlook their stupidity. 

Be kind and carry a sword.

As General Mattis is said to have said: "Be polite. Be Professional. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet." Or to 'forgive those who trespass against us'.

And drink up.

And eat your greens.



  1. Being offended is mental and emotional manipulation. It takes a situation and allows one person to gain control of another by using the magic words, "I'm offended"....and then they wait for a response. It's no different than a two-year old saying, "I want a cookie" and then waiting for a response. It's an almost passive-aggressive weapon for those who claim to not like weapons. I am not responsible for anyone's feelings, they don't require action, apologies, coddling. Be offended all day long if you wish! But don't expect others to take action or pat your back because of it. It's an adult version of a tantrum, and I for one, will not reward bad behavior.

    1. Emotional blackmail it is indeed, Melissa, and thank you for making that so clear. Of course they back it up with a game of 'Let's you and him fight' where they get 'authorities' with punitive powers to act against those who said or did something by which the whiners and complainers get 'offended'. And you are further right in that we must not let them get away with it, nor let them tap into the baser elements within us.

  2. There is a saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names (or words) will never hurt me." People need to remember that.

    1. If only that were the case, Sir. For kiddies in the schoolyard it is a truism, but when the full weight of corrupt law and corrupt officials bring their force to bear on those that have the labels of racist or homophobe etc thrust upon them, then pain is all too often the result. And dispossession of all for which one may have worked. Bakers, florists and pizza makers have all been hurt by the loud and hateful.


Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..