We live in a country that has transformed itself into one of the thinnest skinned, easily offended and offendable bunch of folks in the world. It doesn’t seem to matter what political affiliation, religion, race, gender, socio-economic group or Dodger’s fan a person is now days they are bound to be offended at something. However, we now seem to live where almost everyone is offended at something and it matters not a whit what it may be, hell I even offend myself sometimes. There are some people who almost seem to live with a chip on their shoulder. They are the chronically offended who are quite often easily offensively offended. While most of the time trying not to give offense I have been known to offend the chronically offended, the merely offendable, and even the totally unaware with twisted or sarcastic comments and oddball humor which Judy tells me is not always as funny as I think it is. Nonetheless there are patently many people who are both chronically offended and very angry. I am assured by the Deity Herself that such is not a good and virtuous combination. Especially on those occasions when I am one of the guilty parties questioning the parentage and Oedipal tendencies of the idiots who move across four lanes of traffic without signaling on I-264. At times I wish this was Iraq in 2007 so my turret gunner or RP2 Lebron could shoot them. Thankfully my newly honed skills using the force that I developed in Iraq, which I am told is actually hyper vigilance, does allow me to sense and avoid these Kamikazes before I even see them.
I remember once when I was a civilian hospital chaplain and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some food to take to work. An older gentleman was going toward the sliding automated door and out of simple politeness I said “Sir, please, after you.” Hell, the way I walk, which is as those who see me rapidly racing down the long halls of our medical center without breaking into a jog can testify is pretty fast, it was a safety thing too. I could have run the gentleman down had I not stopped to let him through first. That would not have been cool. I could have seen the newspaper headline in that town:
LOCAL HOSPITAL AND ARMY RESERVE CHAPLAIN SLAMS ELDERLY MAN TO GROUND TRYING TO BEAT HIM THROUGH KROGER DOOR
That would not have been good. The man, instead of smiling and thanking me stops in front of the door, turns around and says: “Why are you calling me sir? Why are you disrespecting me?” He said it very loud, very sharply and I was wondering what the hell was going on. So I kind of defused the situation by using humor. I said, “Sir, I call everybody sir, even ma’ams.” The man cocked his head, gave me the most confused look that I could imagine shook his head and went through the door. I didn’t know that being polite and respectful could be taken as offensive and disrespectful. Maybe when some young guy does that to me someday I will understand. Of course only after whack him with my tazer from my motorized scooter because I think he is being disrespectful and watch him writhing in pain and twitching all over the place.
I knew a young Chaplain who was spouting off in a public forum once in a manner that did not offend me, but which I thought if certain other people read it could affect him and his career in a negative manner. This is no one that I have worked with past or present, only someone that I happen to know in passing. I was concerned for the young man, so I contacted him just to let him know to be careful. I was surprised at the venom with which he reacted to my comment which was only meant to help keep him out of potential trouble. No good deed goes unpunished. Maybe he will go to a self-help course, but then again, selves are very difficult to help.
Now I think everyone at some time has been offended by something or someone. Crap we are human; we can’t help but be, though I do find the Romulan that resides in me very appealing. However, to live my life is a perpetual state of offendedness is something that I refuse to do, even though I both give and take offense probably every day, especially during the morning or afternoon commute. Hell, judging by the number of people I have lost as friends on Facebook after I have written articles on this site I know I give offense, even when I don’t mean to. Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa, pray for me a sinner.
Our offendedness is not helped by the litigious nature of our society where lawsuits are as common as business suits. Someone gets offended and someone sues them. Then someone else gets offended and sues and pretty soon Anne Coulter and Keith Olberman are mud wrestling on Larry King Live, while the ladies on The View come to fisticuffs. Pretty soon offensensitivity reigns and it is like half the country are Frank and Estelle Costanza. What is bad about this is that people are now so spun up by the loudest and most shrill accusatory voices in the media and society that it is hard to turn off. Politics especially has become venom filled and hatred driven. A lot of our electorate is now so polarized and offended by anything anyone else says that there is almost a civil war going on. Albeit this is a without weapons marching armies and crashing cannon, but instead one waged with great energy on the airwaves and the internet. There is occasional talk of secession or armed revolt by one side or the other depending on who’s in power. Politicians and political parties are no longer opponents, they are mortal enemies. Often times interest groups within the various parties opt for a no-quarter approach to how they do business to advance their cause and push their parties further to the extreme. Caricatures and sound bites suffice for truth for many people regardless of them being on the left or right wing of the body politic. It is true at least as far as practice that the extremists in both major parties have more in common with each other than they do the middle where traditionally most Americans live.
Thus with a highly divided, hypersensitive and easily offended populace we are heading for big trouble unless people stop taking themselves so seriously and get about with finding a way to cooperate and make things work. I know that is important to remain principled, but there is also a duty to be civil and respectful even when critical of a person’s position or presentation.
I was reminded of this fact recently when I criticized a pastor’s non-theological remarks on this site. My criticism was unduly harsh and cynical in tone. When this was pointed out I modified the article to make the same point without purposely sky lining the individual in what could be seen in a disrespectful, uncharitable and even un-Christian fashion. I may be a passionate moderate but it is important for me to keep a sense of decorum in what otherwise could be an unseemly brawl. The criticism of how I handled the initial post was valid and sometimes I have to tell myself that restraint, respect and civility is a virtue, even if I think I am right. So please don’t take offense if you deem me offensive or if I have offended the chronically offendable. After all, restraint, respect and civility are one the one thing that separates us from the Cable News Media, prickly pundits and Talk Show Hosts.
Post Script: A friend sent me an e-mail which made a point that I want to ensure that my readers understand. He reminded me that people “would really discern the difference between having a “bad day” response to a situation and those who, perpetuate the historical hatred both past and present of our nation….And then attempt to minimize actions/responses through humor or referring to others as “hypersensitive….this article missed the mark and seemingly inferred …a mocking of responses toward inequality and hatred.”
Of course I assured him that in no way was I at all minimize such actions or refer to those who have been the target of hatred, injustice and discrimination as “hyper-sensitive” or mock actual repsonses to inequity and hatred, regardless of who it is directed toward. That is something that I could never do. The post is a more humorous look at how divided our country has become and how in our dividedness everything is now offensive to someone. Peace, Steve+