William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When, If Ever, Is Getting Offended Justified?

I posed the question:

"I would like your thoughts on the following:

1) What does it mean to "get offended"?
2) When, if ever, are we justified in getting offended?"

And I commented as follows:

I think the term does get used in quite different ways. One way has to do with injury to a person's ego or pride. (i.e., he offended me when he did not even invite me to the party). Another usage appears to be associated with an attack on a person's view of what is right, be it philosophically, morally, intellectually, etc. (he offended my sensibilities when he murdered an innocent person out of jealousy).

I think the key is not to never feel offended, but rather to exercise self-control in analyzing the behavior or philosophy that offends us, and reacting with tolerance and forgiveness towards others. If, for example, I hear someone say, "All mormons are idiots," it will tend to make me annoyed and angry. But if I consider their likely ignorance or other circumstances in their life, I will be in a better position to forgive them and not have a harsh reaction. Most of the time, people say or do stupid things without intending to harm anyone, even though a casual onlooker might be inclined to assume that harm was intended because feelings were hurt or harm was done.

Perhaps "getting offended" can't be avoided altogether. What we can do is give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time. That is not to say that we should always be passive or refuse to prevent injustice. If I see someone killing innocent people, for example, I would feel compelled to stop it, not sit there and tolerate it. But if I see someone, say drinking a can of beer (and not, say, driving drunk or endangering others), I will be privately annoyed, but I will leave them their human dignity of making their own choices, and I will not let it get in the way of my loving them as a child of God.

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