Are we too worried about offending others?

“People wrongly believe they have a right not to be offended. That is not only faulty, but we as educators have a duty to be offensive in the sense of forcing people to rethink their fundamental assumptions… Diversity is cited in this mantra [not being offended], yet we are killing ideological diversity, which is just as important.”

– Nadine Strossen, New York Law School Professor and former president of the ACLU

I read that quote yesterday in the Schenectady, NY Daily Gazette, and was floored. Nadine Strossen said it perfectly!

(Ironically, I have just finished repeatedly changing the picture associated with this blog article, because I didn’t want to offend anyone.)

I don’t know about you, but I have spent way too much time NOT sharing my real opinions, while INSTEAD…

  • worrying that I might offend other people if I shared my opinion on a given subject…
  • replaying conversations over and over in my head, guilt tripping myself into wondering if something I said I believed, somehow may have hurt someone, somewhere along the line (although I have no idea where, how, or who)…
  • and bouncing around what I really want to say, because if I say it straight up, who knows if it’ll offend someone?

Willy(Have you ever talked with someone who’s so afraid of offending you, that you have no idea what they’re even trying to say? Yeah. That may have been me talking…)

I’m reminded of the saying: “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” Of course we don’t want to be rude!! But I have been so afraid that somehow something I say might hurt someone inadvertently, that I’ve been afraid to say what I really think.

However, not sharing our opinions and beliefs can actually STUNT diversity.

While it is important to embrace the obvious diversity that we can view with our eyes (socio-economic, racial, personality, etc.), I think it is just as important to embrace the diversity of ideas. After all, we want to be defined not by what we look like, but by who we are. And who we are has to do with the ideas and beliefs we stand for.

If we can’t express our diverse opinions and beliefs, or if we shut others down for their opinions and beliefs because we don’t want to be offended, then our culture will grow poorer instead of richer. We won’t be able to think for ourselves, and we’ll all begin to look and sound alike. Where’s the beauty of diversity in that??

Please, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I don’t ever want to belittle others, cause them pain, or make fun of them. Sometimes we can take the opposite extreme of arrogance, to the detriment of others. When we share our opinion, it’s important to share it with grace and consideration of the other person. It’s important to think about what impact our words will have on others before we say them.

But don’t stop there, like I have so many times! Think about the impact, and let that inform your word choices, so we can share our opinions and beliefs in a positive way.

Don’t be silent, but do think about, “What are the best words to express my idea in this situation?”

Although I certainly don’t want my words to hurt someone else, sometimes we do have to speak what we believe with an attitude of kindness and love for others.

For example, sometimes it’s in a friend’s best interest for us to gently say, “I love you, and so I want you to know: That guy you’re dating isn’t treating you right. Why are you still with him?”

Sometimes it’s in the best interest of society to say, in a respectful and kind way, “I actually disagree with you, and here’s why. This is what I believe to be true.”

If our goal can shift from never being offended and never offending, to becoming open to share and learn with those who think differently from us, it will enrich our culture.

Obviously, that does not mean we have to agree with everything we hear. Rather, I want to encourage each of us — including myself — to have respectful and kind conversations in which both parties share what they actually think, and neither feels like they are not free to share their thoughts out of fear of offending the other.

What do you think about all this? I’d love to hear your thoughts! (Don’t worry; you won’t offend me. 😉 )

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