‘Offensive speech’ once referred to crude or denigratory remarks intended to express contempt or to simply shock by their vulgarity. Currently, however, the word ‘offensive’ has become a weapon used by a growing number of people who very strongly believe that what they feel to be true, or wish to be true, is so sacrosanct that they demand nothing short of unreserved affirmation. To even gently and graciously suggest they might be wrong, or that there might be other things to consider, is ‘offensive’ and ‘hateful’ and makes such people feel ‘unsafe’. Recently, some students at Pomona College presented their demands to the college president, asserting that there is no such thing as truth, that free speech should only be granted to those who self-identify as ‘marginalized’, and that truth is a tool of white supremacy.(1)
I am committed to offending people in a non-traditional way and I strongly recommend that society do likewise.
Allow me to be crystal clear here; I do not like, nor do I want to participate in traditional crude and denigratory offensive behaviour. Instead, there is a great need for the thoughtful and articulate challenging of people’s beliefs in a gracious way, despite their strident demands that I have no choice but to affirm their beliefs and their labelling of anything they disagree with as ‘hateful’ and ‘offensive’.
Because I speak and write about topics pertaining to the interaction of science, philosophy, and God, I have the dubious benefit of receiving a steady stream of insults, harsh criticisms, dishonest misrepresentations, and attacks that are offensive in the traditional meaning of the word. I cannot say that I like it, but I have found such value in criticisms and challenges, even if offensive, that I feel sorry for those people who believe they have a right to not be offended and refuse to listen to, or grant a hearing to those with whom they disagree. I may not like how the package is wrapped, but it might still contain something valuable.
It has compelled me to very carefully think through what I believe to be true.
Question: What kind of person will you be 30 years from now, if you adamantly refuse to listen to anything that might hurt your feelings, challenge your personal views and beliefs, or threaten your understanding of the world? Do you like what you see?
The value of criticism is described by an ancient proverb …
A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.(2)
Over the course of my life, few things have more powerfully motivated me to carefully think through my beliefs, than harsh criticism delivered in an offensive way. To be honest, I do not even enjoy well-intentioned, constructive criticism, much less offensive attacks on what I believe to be true, but I would be flat-out arrogant if I thought I was so infallible that I could not benefit from it.
If I must endure insults, I want to ensure to the best of my ability that what I present is not only true, but has evidence or at least rational grounds so that I can defend it. Knowing there are people who will crow with delight if I so much as misspell a word (which, alas, often happens), has a remarkable way of refining ones thinking and separating the dross from the gold.
It tells me what a person actually thinks.
If one truly cares about others, understanding what they really think, and how they actually feel, should be more important than demanding that they not say anything that threatens the illusion that everyone is thinking happy thoughts. Permitting an individual to express disagreement with what one says or believes, can lead to some honest discussion. Our politically correct society, however, demands a deceptive veneer of harmony that covers a festering moral decline which will eventually explode for all to see. There is an ancient proverb that speaks to this …
He who hates disguises it with his lips, but he lays up deceit in his heart. When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart. Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.(2)
It tells me when I need to stop talking and start practicing the art of asking the right questions
Many years ago, I sat through two days of seminars by a psychologist, on how to deal with angry people. The single most important thing I took away was this … angry people are in a projective mode rather than a receptive mode. Consequently, they will not listen to anything I have to say. Instead, I need to ask the right questions which will give them an opportunity to express exactly how they feel. The result will be that I better understand them. They, in turn, will appreciate that I cared enough to try to understand them. Only then will they begin to be open to an honest, two-way conversation. An offensive remark can be a valuable indication to me that it might be better to go for coffee with the person and hear what’s on their mind. There may be deeper issues that are more important to talk about.
- Proverbs 17:10
- Proverbs 26:24-26