Doing Life Together

annoyed-2514029_1920College student, Ann, told her professor that she was offended by a passage in a classical literature book. “I didn’t feel good reading it. It stirred up some difficult feelings so the book should be banned.”

Ann doesn’t want to work through her discomfort or learn something about herself. Instead, she chooses to believe her subjective feelings represent reality. Based on her negative emotions, the book should be banned from the literature course.

In years past, this would not have been considered a legitimate request. The professor would have asked Ann to look deep inside and discover why she was so uncomfortable. Does she need to address a hard issues in her past, has she been sheltered from a diversity of experiences, is Ann able to tolerate a story different from her own? Could the class discuss their various subjective reactions to the material? This is called critical thinking.

But today, Ann is part of movement of students who are constantly offended because they feel something to be true. They reason with their emotions. and don’t want to feel uncomfortable.  The mantra is, “If I feel something to be true, it must be true.”

This is scary and dangerous because our feelings are subjective and not always trustworthy. Just because you feel something, doesn’t make it true. I may feel like it is a rainy day but the sun may be shining!

Words become offensive based on whose standards? And who judges the right and wrong of words and decides to punish people? Yes, we need to follow laws and make sure we are not discriminating to people. But when we start policing speech because we don’t like the opinions of others, we are in trouble. Dissenting points of view should be tolerated and civil discourse is needed for people to work through differences.

What happens to Ann when she is faced with an employer who does something to offend her? Is she going to tell him and risk losing her job? And is the employer going to say, “Oh Ann, I am sorry you were offended. If you felt offended, then it must be true?” In the workplace and in real life, there are no safe spaces. Offense will come your way on a regular basis. The key is to respond appropriately, not just react.

First ask, is this offense something I must respond to because it violates my moral conscious? If so, plan your response in a respectful and civil way. If the offense is simply something you don’t like or a difference of opinion, have a discussion  with the person instead of reacting. Try to talk through differences and understand the perspective of the other person. If the offense triggers something in you from your past, work through it rather than expecting people to never offend you.

The Bible has several guidelines to help us deal with offense:

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22-Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

Proverbs 19:11–Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Yes, you will be offended and you will also offend others if you live your life with other people. So don’t be so quick to judge, think before you react, and learn to overlook offenses that are related to something that just feels bad. I’m not saying compromise your values, rather stop reasoning with your emotions.

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