Friday, November 30, 2007

Fear of offense part 2

I was asked what prompted my last post. That is one of those posts that had been brewing a long time. It's just something I see more and more when I talk to people, when I post on message boards, and read blogs. Of course Christmas brings it out more. A school changes the name of a gift-exchange program because "Santa" is a religious symbol and might offend. (Really, Santa a religious symbol? I can't comprehend the thought process.) People complain about store employees saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." (No cite on that one but I recall a lot of Christian indignation and talk of boycotts last year.)

As I think about this some more, I come back to two things:

1. Self-esteem. Has the emphasis on self-esteem killed discussion and debate? Are we afraid that if we say to someone "I disagree with your opinion" that we will harm their self-esteem? Or are people so fragile that any disagreement harms their self-esteem? Do people have to be right all the time in order to feel good about themselves? Why are people so sensitive?

2. Opinions can't hurt you. Really, there are few situations where someone's opinion can harm you. In everyday life, I mean, not extraordinary circumstances like, oh, giving a stuffed toy a name that's offensive to a huge group of angry people who like to execute anyone who they perceive as insulting them. (I wasn't even thinking of that when I was writing.)

Recently I was in a gathering of people, all Christians but with decidedly different views on various topics, including a hot one: the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Some drank, some didn't. When dinner came, some had cider, some had wine. A toast was raised and everyone shared. It was a wonderful dinner. Conversation and opinions flowed freely. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, even as people disagreed. It was a very satisfying event because it was full of good talk.

Friendly disagreements are part of what makes life interesting! Debate helps us think about our own position, figure out why we think the way we do, learn how to express ourselves to explain and "defend" our position, open our eyes to another point of view. If no one ever challenges our opinions or interpretations... we just roll along in life, dumb and happy, confident in our own superiority... and afraid to open our mouths if it means we might disagree. Ready to be angry if someone disagrees with us.

I'm not talking about that sort of brutal honesty that some people think is required. When your neighbor gives you a pie, and you hate it, but she asks if you liked it, you don't say "that was some nasty pie you gave us!" No no no. That's a whole 'nother topic - the art of social lying. (And man can that be hard to explain to kids.)

Why do you think people are this way? Do you think there's any hope for the future? Are people going to become more and more sensitive or will there finally be a backlash?


Michigan Mom2three said...

I found your blog! :)

I think that a lot of the problems that come with online discussions stem from what you mentioned in your first part: we don't have body language, or tone to clarify the intent or the feel of the conversation. In the situation you shared, you were all in a real life relational situation..... makes all the difference in the world. I do agree though, that people are way too sensitive.... and probably have been guilty a bit myself from time to time... it seems to be getting more and more complicated all the time.

dadvocate said...

I saw your comment at DrHelen and thought I'd visit.

I never worry or think about my kids' self-esteem. I tell them to work hard and do their best and, generally, they do. Guess what? They excel in many areas and feel good about themselves for their accomplishments.

Missy said...

Marble, this was a good, timely post for me, glad I popped over to read it!