What is the most offensive thing to do in our culture? "Thou shalt not offend." Ok, so what is it that makes people most upset and leaves them huffing and puffing and caught up in a rowdy rile of rancor? I'd say it's because we are too sensitive. Well, that's obvious, "Duh," you say. "It's in your title." Right.
So, the next question is, why are we so sensitive? And why have I had friends from my youth "unfriend" me from popular social media forms (you know the one), leaving me to think they are a ghost in my life? Is it me? Is it them? Both? Et tu, Brutus.
I've offended many people in my life, and that is something of which I am not proud. In fact, it makes me sad that I have made someone so upset with me that they want nothing to do with me because of things I've said or written. I wish I could change that. I do wonder, "How can I 'tell the truth' or 'give my opinion' without offending some people? Is it inevitable? I don't think it has to be. I think there is an art in rhetoric that eschews offense and commends artful, gracious dialogue, so graceful that even one's enemies must agree that the ethos (personal appeal) is good, while perhaps the logos (matter of discourse) may remain a point of contention. Alas, I have much to learn in this area. Thankfully, I know some older (don't be offended!) folks who are wiser and capable in this regard.
But back to brass tacks. Why is it that folks are so sensitive today and so easily offended, and why is it that the only offense in this day and age is to offend?
"Americans are a bunch of lazy, overweight, self-indulgent, uneducated, greedy, immoral, cads who can't keep a commitment as shown in their high rates of divorce, dependency on the government, addictions, crime rates, corrupt justice systems and overpaid athletes."
That's offensive. But the thing is, there's truth to it too. Now, not all Americans are like this. So, the person saying this is making a hasty generalization. And yet, the preachers on the radio tell us that our culture is immoral, self-indulgent, and so on. And it seems like this is true when we read the papers or watch the news. Corruption, crime, depravity. It's everywhere.
So, why are we so easily offended at such a statement?
It seems to me that the reason for this is because we are, in fact, self-indulgent: we deserve what we want, and we need to have what we think we need when we think we need it, and we want it now, damnit. I know pharmacists who deal with this mentality. In fact, I wonder if, in general, the pharmacists in this country have a low view of Americans as a whole. You know, in general. "Where's my pills?! And why has it taken so long?! And why does it cost so damn much?!?" I bet they could tell you stories...
It really is time for some national repentance. Have you heard of the president of Uganda?
Is it because we really are self-indulgent, self-centered, and self-important? Is that why we are offended so easily by others when they "touch a nerve" in the way we are living our lives?
"Mind your own business."
But that's not a good policy, either. First of all, it's rank individualism. Wait-a-minute. Individualism. That's it! That's the problem, eh? People think they belong to no one but themselves, and not to a community of people. Couple that with a mentality that prizes entitlement and rights galore, and you have the triune, distopian, quagmire of well...our society. Secondly, what people do with their lives affects mine. That's why we have laws.
But we really should mind people's own business, to an extent. We shan't be finger-pointers, pointing out with our bony fingers everyone's fatal fault and flaw. But neither shall we affirm everyone in everything they say and do. Many decisions, behaviors and attitudes are just plain wrong. And how else shall we grow in maturity if we don't both provide and receive constructive criticism from time to time? Provided it's done in love and received with an air of proper self-assurance. You've got to love that person, not wanting to tear them down, but build them up. Secondly, when someone criticizes you, don't freak out: maybe there's some truth to what they are saying, even if they say it imperfectly.
Now we ask the question of how. How do you do that? How do you build someone up when you see that someone is messing up, and especially when you know that are "sensitive"? Haha! I speak from experience. I'm the sensitive one!
Perhaps those who are so easily offended are that way because they really are self-centered. Whether it is poor self-esteem (Erich Fromm) or pride (St. Augustine), it is self-centeredness. And when someone have only the self with which to deal, the self becomes vulnerable. If someone has a larger cause or community for which they contend, or to which they belong, they may lose sight of themselves. Working for a large corporation doesn't seem to provide ample escape from the dilemma however.
What then? Nationalism? Religion?
No, no cause or corporation can provide it either, unless the individual empties herself and sees herself as less important. Less important than what? Or whom? Well, both. People need community, and they need to throw off the shackles of the individualist chains lain upon them through group-think, tv and "close-out-the-world-around-you" electronic devices. After this, the trait of "less-importance" fits well within corporate situations or nationalist ideals, but only if the person has a real, emptying of the self can that self escape the grip and gripe of the offend-o-meter. No cause will do. Only the emptying of the self.
And if we need to empty ourselves, into what do we empty ourselves? Well, since we are persons, we must empty ourselves, not into a personless void, but rather into a another person. And since we are finite, we must empty ourselves into a person who is infinite, and capable of receiving our emptiness; for if we empty ourselves into each other only, we only revolve in a circle of finitude, though the circle be a thousand persons from end to end, or even a million or a billion or more. It all ends up in a circle that is finite, and the circle fills with each person emptying himself into the other, but receiving an emptying from the one before him, and so on in infinite regression or progression, leaving only another quagmire of humanity searching in the dark for a lost light.
Now, if there is a source that is able to receive our cries and hopes and fears and laments and our guilt, then there is a one who can heal us from our self-indulgent ways and bring us to a human nature that bestows grace upon one's neighbor without recourse to revenge or quibble or disdain due to offense. This grace is found in the one, infinite Jesus Christ, who emptied himself and became nothing, pouring himself out on a cross to bring us to God, who indeed was (for some, still is!) offended at our selfish ways, self-indulgence, entitlement mentality and yes, our sin. The atonement of Christ brings peace. It brings peace between us and God, and between us and those who have offended us. Let's live in that grace and forgive, pray and heal, and be willing to show one another our own errors, as well as the errors we so easily see. Let's accept criticism, even as that criticism is given via the garden's rose. It is the thorn on the rose that brings the prick and sting of criticism, but it is the petals that bring life and change. But man! If you are going to offer something to someone that you know is on the cusp of offense, by all means take that risk into your hands and wash it, mold it, and pray through, breathing a breath of life and caress in love.
May the Holy Spirit of our God and Father give us this grace in Jesus Christ. Amen.