I’ve been thinking about the word “offend” quite a bit over the last few years. The definition implies that it’s a bad action to do to someone. The perpetrator’s actions are to be judged. S/he has behaved poorly, causing harm. But these days the focus is on the offended, rather than the offender.
“Everyone is so easily offended these days.”
“People are so sensitive, they get offended over every little thing.”
Verb: to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done
Maybe…someone should ask WHY people are offended? Why is the finger always pointed at the one who’s been hurt, the one on the receiving end of the abuse/assault/insult? It’s yet another form of victim-blaming, you feel badly, therefore it must be your fault. But wait, back up. What happened to make you feel that way? Shouldn’t someone own that responsibility?
The use of the word “offend” was hardly seen until the mid-1500s, then peaked in the early 1800s. After a steep drop over a decade, then a long and slow decline, use has been rising again since the late 1990s.
Likewise it is as necessarie to register the lives of the leaude, that the terror of their puni/hments and infamie may feare us to offend. – The Rocke of Regard, George Whetstone, 1576
Early use of the word was almost always in a Biblical sense.
“Lest we should offend them…”
“Whoso shall offend one of these little ones…”
The intention of the usage was not that someone’s feelings be hurt, but that your actions would cause them to turn away. From their faith, their church, their God. In a more modern sense, actions have them same effect, as you turn away from friends or family who are hurtful. The word offend was a negative action performed by a hurtful perpetrator; it was not used to describe the victim of the action.
Now, my sensitive offendees…Are we really offended? Or do we just disagree, and then get defensive? Maybe I just feel lonely, or left out, or unappreciated.
So I argue that being offended is not necessarily the same as being hurt, disappointed, or misunderstood.
You didn’t win the soccer trophy? You’re not offended, you’re disappointed.
You didn’t get invited to the birthday party? You’re hurt.
You worked hard on that paper, but only got a B? You’re discouraged.
Your opinionated great-aunt says black people are lazy and Mexicans are rapists and Muslims should be banned from the country ? You’re angry. And yes, NOW you’re offended. Someone has caused you pain, but it’s bigger than being excluded from the birthday party. Insults on a grand existential scale that challenge people’s very identity and right to exist and result in them turning away from the person/institution causing the pain = offense.
I’m a sensitive soul and tend to be very tolerant and understanding of different perspectives. My tolerance ends at exclusion, ignorance, and phobias. Does that make me easily offended? Maybe. It’s RIGHT to be offended by those things. The problem here isn’t the offended, but the offender.
The word victim also implies a sort of passivity, that we sit back and allow terrible things to happen as we quiver in the corner, snowflakes circling our heads. If we don’t, however, defending verbally or physically, that’s when the real backlash starts raining down.
So let’s think about what to do when you’ve offended someone. Here’s a list of things that won’t make it better for anyone:
“Get over it.”
“Put on your big girl panties.”
“You’re an embarrassment.”
“What a snowflake.”
Seriously? You’ve just hurt someone, intentionally or not. Let’s not marginalize their feelings and continue to fling insults. People do pile on when they sense weakness, right? Take a step back and practice some self-awareness. Start with taking a seat and listening – really, wholeheartedly listening, not pretending to listen while you think about your next argument/defense. Look carefully at what you said or did. Sit with all of it for a while, but because you’re trying to understand, not because you’re stewing and drafting a response in your head.
And finally, don’t be so damn proud that you can’t admit you made a mistake.
Origin: Latin offendere; to strike against
The striker is not always in the right. Let’s have more empathy for those who have been struck.