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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.

5 Responses

  1. Part of the reason that people are offended is that the person speaking has sometimes not thought about their words, chosen them carefully, and taken into consideration the pent-up anger and hard feelings of other side. People are also tired of being talked down to and not listened to. They are tired of leaders circling the wagons and defending each other, listening today and then nothing happening tomorrow. Guilt by association sometimes means the whole group needs to resign or at least quickly dismiss the person who made the offensive comment. I always said either condemn it or you condone it. Whether or not you really condone it, when it looks like you do that is all that matters. Look, I don’t like some things that have been said to my peers and me but no one with power seemed to care. When leaders sweep issues under the rug and seem to only care about preserving the leadership or institution and not about the people there is a problem.

  2. Some people though do not think about their words, consider the pent-up anger/frustration of their audience, and do not listen to their audience and so a lot of what seems like hypersensitivity is major league frustration. Also, when one leader speaks offensively without considering his/her words and other leaders do not condemn the words and the one who spoke, they are in essence condoning it. Additionally, wagon-circling by the leadership is a recipe for disaster. Look, I have not liked plenty of things said to my peers (Gen X) and me but no one with power thought anything was wrong with it. This did not help my opinion of the speaker or who those who had the power to speak up but didn’t.

    1. That is a valid point. The hypersensitivity side only accounts for the listener, not the speaker. Sometimes people do and say things that are utterly offensive. Thanks for pointing that out and balancing out the conversation.

  3. What I find is that the most stilted people in talking about scripture and things related to it, especially open discussion, are the saints. We are good being preached to and within the borders of a class, but when we get out of this context, we end up talking about anything but God and the scriptures. Perhaps this is because we are afraid to say the wrong thing and if so, then we are afraid we will get persecuted or condemned.
    So yes we are guarded.
    But it is a blessing to have outlets like this in which to share information and thoughts.

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