Guarded – that’s a great word for our communication these days…at least for those who care. Those who care about others are guarded because people who care don’t want to upset people. That is a good thing but it makes having difficult conversations quite difficult. We have developed a cultural sensitization to offensive things. The list of what is offensive has grown dramatically…some for the good (there were things we should have been offended by but weren’t) and for the bad (there are now things we are offended by that aren’t that big of a deal). We have to be guarded in what we say because offending people is one of the worst things you can do in our world today and if you say anything at all worth saying, chances are you are going to offend someone. It isn’t necessarily because we have offensive things to say but because people are looking for ways to be upset. Being upset is the new moral high road. It is for the virtuous. Being offended is the new virtue…signalling to the world that we are on the right team, saying the right things and approving/disapproving of the right/wrong things.
Claiming offense can be an attempt to control. It can be a way of silencing ideas that are disagreeable. Instead of having a well reasoned conversation we move to the visceral, gut level reactive offense reaction and that shuts down the conversation.
It is easier to be a critic than to come up with an idea worth sharing.
All of this makes it exceedingly hard to discuss difficult ideas. Difficult ideas need space that is critical but not hypersensitive. Difficult ideas need discussed and evaluated but it seems the number of people who are able to carry on these conversations through differences is decreasing. It is good to be sensitive but not hypersensitive. If you are always on the look out for the next thing that offends you, you will absolutely find it but it may not be as offensive as you have been trained to think it is.
If you feel yourself being hypersensitive take a moment to ask yourself why that other person upsets you so much? Is it because their ideas are terrible? Is it personal? Is it because you aren’t sure how to defend your own position? Let’s be proactive in assessing our own views and allow others to challenge us. A challenge to your view is good for you, not bad for you but your defense mechanisms can very easily trick you out of having a more robust, well challenged conclusion.