time-to-time, little gems of wonder come floating through my inbox, notifying me that an old article of mine has received a fresh comment.
Usually, it's comments on the article about Americans being dumbasses (see 80% of Americans Are Functionally Retarded); and because the universe has a sense of humor, the commenters on that article always tell me that the plugs in the picture are European. It always gives me a chuckle.
But just yesterday, I received a comment from a user on my article "Jesus Digs My Style." In the article, I featured the picture to the right. It's one of my all-time favorites: Jesus flipping the bird. I know that a lot of people find it offensive, and this user did not disappoint. Here is what she said:
"Every right entails responsibility. I am very ashamed for having seen this image. You may call it anything you want, but for me, this is plain disrespect for anyone's belief and faith. You could have at least keep it to yourself. I did not read amything you have to say in your blog, the picture says it all. I'm not trying to be righteous here but seeing this, I feel ashamed how cruel men can be, and I have, in many ways, disappointed my God and i am very sorry for that. If there is one thing I want to ask from you, use your right to speak, for a cause. The world will be a lot better when people are sensitive enough not to harm and insult others. May my God, Jesus, bless you."The people who know me personally know that I rarely shy from the opportunity to express my true feelings on important matters. Many people find some of the things I say to be offensive, but fortunately my friends give me the chance to at least explain myself. Sure, I offended this woman, but this particular line was most salient to me:
"I did not read amything you have to say in your blog, the picture says it all."Yes, words can be hurtful, and one should not ignore the feelings of others. But too often do we shy away from saying things that need to be said all for the sake of avoiding offense.
For starters, we don't want people to think that we are insensitive assholes. I, for one, do not relish legitimately offending someone I really care about. Actually, when a friend of mine tells me that he or she is legitimately offended by something I've said, I immediately apologize because I don't like feeling as though I've done wrong to someone close to me. I understand the desire to avoid being offensive--at least, I understand my own desire to avoid being deeply and truly offensive.
What I also understand about myself is that I do not enjoy being censored in any way. There is a difference between self-censorship--fighting the urge to say something edgy because I don't want to actually hurt anyone's feelings--and being censored by others, being told that I'm not allowed to say something because it is "offensive." When I am told that I can't or shouldn't say something, my immediate response is to ask "why?"
I should probably start posing a different question to people, because simply asking them "why" never elicits the response I'm looking for. Instead, I should ask people this: if someone you loved was engaging in incredibly destructive behavior--like drugs or dog fighting--would you not tell them that they have a problem simply because you don't want to hurt their feelings? I would hope that any good friend would tell that person what they need to hear: stop using drugs, because you're destroying yourself and taking down your loved ones with you.
All opinions--even the crazy ones--have some truth to them. I'm not suggesting that all opinions are "right." The truth may be that the expression reveals something about the person who said it. Shows like Family Guy and South Park go to great lengths to be offensive in the name of comedy, but you know what? Sometimes, there really is something to some of their "offensive" humor.
So is it really all that bad to be offensive? I think not, but that's because I see it as a matter of personal freedom and an exercise in discovering truth. The most critical error in all of human history is that we humans consistently fail to listen to each other. If that commenter had actually taken the time to read some of my writing, she would have seen that I do use my voice for a cause. Perhaps it's my own cause, but I think increased self-awareness and fostering honest, open dialogue are worthy pursuits.
She couldn't bear to set her feelings aside and make an attempt to get to the heart of my message. As a result, she's missed out on an alternative perspective on life--perhaps a way of thinking that she has not been exposed to. She has given up on the pursuit of truth.