Offending, Being Offensive, and Why They're Not Always Terrible-Horrible-No-Good-Very-Bad Things

When we scrub everything we hear and say of things that might potentially offend somebody, we’re not only stripping Western education of its power, we also tear the heart out of real, actual, human relationship.

The point of communication isn’t being inoffensive.

Let me be crystal clear what I don’t mean:

1. I’m not saying the purpose of communication is to offend. I’m just saying that to truly communicate-- in a time where social media allows almost anybody to hear-- you’re accepting that people will be offended. Entire YouTube channels make money because their whole goal is to offend. In short, I think that’s stupid.

2. No, this blog post isn’t building up to a climax where I show that the Supreme Court got it all wrong about gay marriage, and the resolution is that, well, us Christians gotta stay true to good moral values even if all ‘dem heathens ‘round us ain’t believers.

3. I’m not saying microagression isn’t legitimate. Shorthand, microagression is communication that may appear well-intended but actually perpetuates oppressive thinking. One of my youth group kids recently asked another why his hair is ‘ghetto.’ That is microagression. I know the kid. He’s 12 years old, too busy pouring sugar on his Cheerios to willingly participate in oppressive mindsets. But he did.

I’m not even exempting myself from microagression. I do far more than I’m aware. But when we respond to microagression with vitriol and condemnation, we strip communication of its power.

Western education depends completely on the power of critical thinking. The mantra is that we shouldn’t be taught what to think, but how to think.

At college, everything about me that I haven’t examined is ruthlessly exposed and critiqued. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you, but my classes frequently make me angry. I came to college believing the Bible could do no wrong. Classes took a magnifying glass to beliefs like that, and-- in between naivete and understanding-- I’m angry, mostly because I don’t like it when people tell me that I’m wrong with big words.

I could’ve scrubbed the record of anything that raised alarm. Just bought all the books that would confirm my beliefs. Only read things that relieved me, a white Christian man, from all complicity in oppressing others. If you want to assure yourself of being deluded, only expose yourself to things that confirm your beliefs. But I think Western education got it right here: in between being ignorant and understanding is being offended. To learn anything, we’ve got to lean into the discomfort that we might actually be completely wrong.

What about life?

I actually love being married.

Kasey and I are similar in many ways, and we’re best friends because of it. But I secretly love how totally different she can be from me. There’s something spectacularly human about assuming that everybody loves Cinnamon Toast Crunch only to discover that your most intimate ally in life thinks it’s nasty.

When I truly experience another person on their own terms, it feels strange, like landing on another continent: nothing is familiar except that it has land like mine does. Sadly, I often find myself only looking to see if they have the same stuff on their continent as I do on mine. I miss the vast valleys and the snow-capped mountains trying to figure out if it’s donkeys or elephants they have hanging around.

Looking back at the marriage fights we’ve had, it’s mostly just one of us being offended at how different the other is. Offense, then, is just the child of encounter. When we experience another person-- more than ‘hey, how are ya, what’s your major again’-- they are likely to offend us sometime, somehow. On one extreme, that could be because they hate groups of people. On the other, it might be because we’re behind them in line at Target and they still write checks to pay for groceries.

But either way, when we get close enough to another person, we’ll smell their soul’s breath. Sometimes, it’ll be so lovely you want to cut your heart out and give it to them on a paper plate. Other times, it’ll be so gross you’ll recoil, give ‘em the stink eye, and promptly tell them to f--- off.

But if we refuse our right to be offended by anybody-- or worse, only receive the parts we like about somebody-- we’re tragically giving up on what relationships are all about: being intimate with others, in all their terrifying and beautiful otherness.

Lewis once said that the purpose of a window, after all, is to see through it. Communication is no different: offensive as I may be, I must still find the courage to show myself through it. And offensive as you may be, I must still find both the empathy to truly see you and the love to make something of a home there.

In a way, that’s what relationship is about.


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#communication #relationships #reflections #fear