Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A bigger fool

Innumerable times I have heard a quote mentioned in church that is attributed to one Brigham Young: 

He who takes offense when none is intended is a fool; he who takes offense when offense is intended is a bigger fool.

An Ensign article from 1974 mentions that Mr. Young apparently said this, but when I Google the quote, the top result says that Confucius said it.  Eh...Confucius, Brigham Young—basically the same person, right?  I always get them confused, personally.

Anyway, at least twice in the last couple of years I've been accused of being "offended."  I say "accused" because it seems that, because of this quote that's tossed around, being offended is seen as foolish—not valid or warranted.  In both of these situations that I can easily recall, the person who believed I was offended was a church authority figure who had said some arguably offensive things (example: Drew Barrymore did things like end up in rehab and flash David Letterman because she was raised by gay fathers).  One did say, I think, something like, "I'm sorry if I've offended you" (in what I perceived to be a not-very-sincere voice), but the other only said, "I've clearly offended you," to which I said, "I'm not offended," because I was offended by his assumption that I was offended!  (Insert emoticon here.)

The reason I get offended by the word "offended" is because it seems dismissive of pain and hurt to me.  It seems to put the blame on the person that's offended (because, after all, s/he is being a fool) and let the offender off the hook.  Seriously, within this paradigm, someone who gets offended seems stupider than the person who was possibly intentionally offensive.  

Often, being offended is a reason given for why people leave the church.  Lessons about apostasy usually include two stories about people who got offended: Symonds Ryder and two women who shared a cow.  Ryder got mad because his name got misspelled on a document, which to him meant that the church wasn't true, because God wouldn't let his name be spelled wrong or something.  The two women who shared a cow somehow disagreed over who got what amount of cream or something.  Perhaps you can tell by my flippant attitude that I don't respect these stories as sources of offense very much.  These are petty examples that discredit people's valid, painful reasons to be offended.  Someone who was sexually abused by his/her bishop could be called "offended."  That is not like being upset over a misspelled name. 

True, people get offended over silly things, petty things, things they should forgive.  But the term "offended" seems to lump all sorts of cases of varying degrees of severity together.

Of course, this whole post could be dismissed as the angry ramblings of another "offended" person.  Don't care.  I demand my offense to be recognized as valid.


  1. In my book, sexual abuse is not being offended. It is a legitimate issue and deliberate wrong-doing. When I hear the word 'offended,' I take it to mean that someone gets unduly upset, hurt, angry, annoyed, etc at something that someone either thoughtlessly or intentionally did or said. It tends to be flippant and petty. It is making mountains out of mole hills.

    And let me be clear that there is a difference in BEING offended and in STAYING offended. Your experiences, thoughts and emotions all contribute to the way you will react to something in the moment and often you can't help but to feel offended. Being offended is not the problem. STAYING offended is the problem.

    "He who takes offense when none is intended is a fool" - this is true. When you make a mountain out of a molehill, that is your own choice. Holding someone else accountable for your feelings of hurt and anger when they absolutely (and honestly) did not intend to is stupid. It makes you a fool. I say this about myself too. If I take offense at something that wasn't intended to be offensive, I'm a fool.

    "He who takes offense when offense is intended is a bigger fool." - this is also true. If you get baited into becoming and staying offended, you're only giving that person what they wanted in the first place: a rise or reaction out of you. In either case, you lose. You either make a big deal out of nothing and probably alienate someone or you give the other person what they wanted.

    Also: "Drew Barrymore did things like end up in rehab and flash David Letterman because she was raised by gay fathers"... yes this might be offensive, but why would this offend YOU? You are not Drew Barrymore nor is this likely true. It is someone spouting off their own opinion.

    - Christine

  2. Christine, thanks for commenting!

    If you're defining being offended as being petty, then I would agree that someone who is offended is always a fool. But from what I've seen, people slap the label of "offended" on others (e.g., me) with valid concerns who aren't just making mountains out of molehills. People imply that you're being petty when you're not. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't consider myself to be petty or prone to get worked up about little things. The things in question could seem like little things to other people, but those people don't have my perspective and they shouldn't judge me and dismiss my concerns.

    Even though I'm not Drew Barrymore, I was offended by that statement in question [and, to be clear, not the petty kind of offended]. I was offended that a member of the church that I also belonged to was teaching these principles of judgment and skewed observations during a religious class and representing my religion. I was offended on behalf of her and other people in and connected with the gay community.

    I think we both agree that being hurt by things like sexual abuse should not be considered merely being 'offended.' But when the only examples of offense given in church classes are stupid and insignificant yet people are over-applying the word 'offended' and using it for situations that are not merely petty, there is a problem.

    The two times I was labeled as being 'offended' I was not being petty—the men in question were being judgmental and close minded and unwilling to consider any alternative point of view. They said stupid things but dismissed my objections by calling me offended.

    One more thing: This ties into the debate about whether people need to be less hypersensitive or other people need to be more aware of what they're saying. It seems to be brutish people who speak without thinking and who say intolerant things who are the ones to call out others for being hypersensitive. There is such a thing as being hypersensitive, but in my experience the label is over applied. Saying that you didn't mean something offensively so the person shouldn't be bothered by it is refusing to take responsibility for being rude in many cases. I think there's a balance—people should consider what they say before they say it and judge whether it's offensive or not and the people listening should keep in mind that the other person is probably not meaning to be offensive. There's a give and take. But calling someone 'hypersensitive' or 'offended' is treated like a get-out-of-jail-free card that expunges you of any responsibility for hurting someone.

  3. The problem is that if we say that the word is applied too liberally (though I have little experience with this particular problem of having it applied too liberally.. it seems that you've had more), it becomes difficult to apply it correctly. Would you agree that some situations warrant the use of "offended" (of the petty kind)? At that point we come to the reality that what is a big and legitimate issue to one person because of their experience is silly and petty to someone else. So we can either call no one offended (since we don't know the reasons behind their reactions and to them it would appear legitimate) or try to apply it correctly and end up applying it too liberally because of the people trying to be absolved of responsibility. Apparently we're erring on the side of liberal.

    I understand and respect the situation regarding the Drew Barrymore comment and your right to be angry and embarrassed. I don't mean this as an excuse, merely as an observation - it seems to me that church leaders/authority figures all tend to err on the conservative side, probably so it doesn't appear that they are condoning certain behaviors that are against gospel principles (in your example, homosexual marriage) which can then come across as offensive, condescending and/or self-righteous. This is not true of all church leaders, of course, but I've heard many similar stories that would suggest this.

    I agree that people need to consider what they say before saying something offensive, but we are all only human and cannot account for the different ways our words will be interpreted by those who hear them. I for one am not good with words. I often end up being offensive while honestly not meaning to. It took me at least a good half hour to write and re-write each of these two comments so they (hopefully?) don't come across as offensive. With written words you have the luxury of time and a backspace key. You don't have that with spoken words. Conversation requires an immediate response and once they're out there, no amount of kicking yourself will erase your words from someone's memory.

    Anyway, I think the issue is less about being rude/hypersensitive (though that certainly plays a role) and more about the fact that no one listens to each other anymore. Everyone seems to form an opinion and, in a fit of emotion (which forms the worst and meanest kind of responses!), throw it in your face as fact and the only correct opinion without listening to your reasons for your opinion. We don't ask each other, "why do you feel that way?" we just attack each other for our differing points of view. The problem comes when we're not humble enough to listen to each other and open ourselves up to honestly balance what someone else has to say with our own ideas. It seems that there is hardly such thing as a civilized debate anymore. So in that regard I think it very wrong that you were labelled as "offended" and not given a chance to state your views.

  4. I note that this is very old, and so you probably don't care anymore, but I'm not sure that really matters. While I can kinda see what you mean by the overapplication of labels such as "offended" or "hypersensitive," it seems to me more important that any offense you do take be remedied. People can be wrong, and often are; this goes for church leaders as much as yourself. It is natural in some situations to get angry or upset, but allowing yourself to become bitter for a long time will only distance yourself from others. Serious problems, like sexual abuse, do need to be fixed and can be hard to forgive others of, but few human beings crave harming others constantly; such problems may have arisen from an addiction they want to overcome. The offense is real, and a normal, healthy response to abuse, whether sexual or not. However, allowing it to taint a relationship is beneficial to neither side. Help the abuser become ready to seek help, and support them through what problems there are. Solutions are available for any problem that creates offence, and most often serving the offender or serving God will bring resolution (though not always restitution). --T