Friday, November 30, 2007

Discussion, disagreement, and the fear of offense

Is the world getting more sensitive? I don't mean in the caring, nurturing, sort of way. I mean in the "you offended me" sort of way.

Where did it start, this eagerness to be offended? This is a great time of year for offending people. Express your religious beliefs and bam! You've offended someone. Express your lack of religious beliefs and look out! You've offended someone back.

Of course it's not just Christmas, or religion, or politics. Any topic is dangerous. If people have an opinion, there will be disagreements, and the potential to offend.

Conversation isn't so interesting anymore, now that we have to be so afraid of offending one another. If someone makes an assertion, and we question it, we have either offended or have somehow shown that we are offended, thus shutting down the conversation. People don't want to disagree, for fear of offending. So. If we can't talk about anything even mildly controversial, what's left but the weather?

Of course some of this is due to communication via computer. If we can't see that someone is smiling as they type out a question or a comment, we do not know how they feel about it. Smiling and winking emoticons can help, but people are still unsure. So they shut up.

I am not easy to offend, and I enjoy a good discussion. Disagreement sharpens people. When someone questions me, it makes me think about my assertion or my opinion. That's how we learn! That's how we grow! But, not if no one will allow disagreement.

When I'm talking with someone, or reading a discussion on a message board, I make an assumption as I read: that the person is honestly talking/writing about something they believe, not that they are trying to annoy me. I assume curiosity, a desire to share information or opinion. I don't assume malice.

It makes life a lot more interesting. And more pleasant, since I'm not on guard, waiting to be offended. I can't do anything about those who are afraid to offend, but I try to conduct my conversations in a way that shows I welcome discussion. It doesn't always help, though.

Make it a point today not to be offended.

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