We should all stop being offended

| 6 min read

Summary: The author argues that we’re becoming overly sensitive and offended, especially in online spaces. They use the example of gender pronouns: while asking for pronouns is important, being offended when someone makes a mistake based on appearance is unproductive. We should focus on intention and kindness, understanding that mistakes happen, and educating those who are genuinely trying to learn. Instead of dismissing people for being “uneducated,” we should engage with them and build allies.

“We should all stop being offended.” What do you think about this? I just read this and I thought it was interesting because I was kind of offended by it when I first read it! Haha but then I was like “Wait, maybe they’re right” let me explain: All of the important social issues are clouded with offense. The culture wars is all based on that, and Big Social Media strives on it and pushes us to be more and more offended because it drives engagement and thus makes money…

The right is offended that the left wants to change their beliefs and what they’re accustomed to. The left is offended that the right doesn’t respect changes that won’t affect them much, if at all. As a gay man, I’m offended when people use offensive terms or ask offensive questions. And in a way, rightly so. But then what happens is I cut the discussion short. “Go educate yourself” is the go-to answer of our community.

And then, moments later, I might accidentally misgender someone who gets offended: “why do you assume my gender?”. So I try to do better and I ask the next person for their pronouns and they get offended “isn’t it obvious, why are you asking?”. The progressists will say that people should get used to being asked and shouldn’t be offended. The conservatives will say that nobody was offended before so why should we change now? And no, I’m not saying we should “listen to both sides”.

As a generally very progressive person, you know that my fundamental opinion on the subject is that asking for somebody’s pronouns can make a lot of marginalized people feel more comfortable, so it’s a good thing. And there’s nothing to be offended about when asked. It doesn’t mean that “you look like a man/woman”, I’m just asking you your pronouns the same way I’m asking your name: to know how to refer to you in the way you like. BUT there’s a but…

We have centuries of our cultures and languages evolving a certain way. Not all good ways, but it did. What a man and a woman look like has evolved with time, but we all understand what looks “masculine” and what looks “feminine” for our time. The same way that we know what “blue” and “green” looks like even though sometimes it’s difficult to say whether a color is blue or green. Like turquoise! But it doesn’t prevent us from communicating.

When I see a blue/green sweater, I might say “I love your blue sweater” because it looks more blue to me. If the owner of the sweater tells me “oh it’s actually green!” I will just say “oh sorry it looked blue to me! I love your green sweater then.” See how in this interaction, there was a mistake based on perception but nobody was offended? Yes, there is no identity, trauma, rights, feelings involved so it’s easy not to be offended. But the mechanism of language is the same.

We call things (and people) as we see them. Doesn’t mean we’re right, but we rely on our senses to define everything. If I don’t know someone’s name, I will refer to them as I see them. “That girl with dark blonde hair” doesn’t mean they’re a girl, nor that they have dark blonde hair. They might be a boy or NB with brown hair. But from afar that’s what I see, and I need to describe them to the person I’m talking to with references we both understand so that they can identify them.

If someone were to tell this person how I referred to them and it’s incorrect, they might be offended. But should they? “But Nad, you could’ve described them with gender neutral terms” Maybe, but irl it might not always be feasible, and also necessary. If they identify as a man, but look “feminine” (which is a social construct, but like any other style like “hipster, goth, business, casual, punk, etc) of course they are a man! But they might’ve looked feminine to me when I looked at them.

We’re getting more and more offended by extension. We’re claiming that gender is a spectrum, but then make the debate binary! “You either agree with everything I believe or you’re against me, you’re either right or you’re wrong.” Sure you can be mad at people who hurt you, and you shouldn’t listen to what people who want to harm you have to say. But it’s not black or white. It seems like most people used to want to be good people, now people want to be right.

But I’m sure that 99% of people (who are not vocal on social media) are still like that. They might not be “educated” (who is educated on all subjects, especially ones that don’t concern us directly?), they might be wrong. But as long as they’re not intentionally hurtful, what’s the problem? Let’s try to figure out intention before getting offended. Our response should change depending. If they want to hurt us, we can be mad, as we should defend ourselves against people who want to hurt us.

But if not, then it doesn’t matter if it’s not PC. We have to choose to be kind first. People who are not hateful or hurtful are our biggest ressource for potential future allies. Because if we kindly explain and educate THESE people, they will join us! If we dismiss them angrily, they will most certainly join the opposite camp.

Let’s stop being offended, and let’s start telling people when we’re uncomfortable or hurt. Because that’s 2 things we’re allowed to feel. And then we can evaluate if the other person’s respectful enough to try to make us feel at ease, or if they’re a bad person. And before you talk about my privilege about being a cis white man, I’ll tell you, yes, I do have privilege, but you can’t assume I don’t experience oppression too and how it compares to other’s and if my voice is legitimate enough.

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