Why do we care if we offend people?

  • Thread starter Pengwuino
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  • #1
Pengwuino
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I'm the type of person who rarely gets offended by anything. I'm also a person who can see "how" someone can be offended over various things. However, I put "how" in quotation marks because I've never been entirely sure how people are offended. Now, there are of course derogatory words and sayings that are fairly obvious. On the other hand, there are things that I simply do not get. For example, I'm a teaching assistant, and I "know" I'm not suppose to tell a student that they need to stop complaining because they're acting like a child if they whine about a grade because I'll "offend" them. As an aside, no one EVER complains to me about a grade. NEVER. I don't know why. Everyone else says they have tons of complaints. I must give off that "if you complain, you'll regret it more than anything you've ever regretted in your life" vibe. But anyhow, back on topic. So as a teaching assistant (and I'm sure you can think of many examples in your profession), you're not suppose to offend students. Why not?

Usually when there is an opportunity to offend someone, it is because the person has done something that requires a possibly offensive response. Then there are other cases (maybe this is just so pervasive because I live in California) where simply an action might offend someone. I can't dare speak about my beliefs unless I'm surrounded by people who agree with my beliefs even more than I do because I've been trained to believe that speaking my beliefs when people who disagree are around is offensive and thus, something to be avoided.

What is this nonsense I have been trained to believe in? Why do people get offended over anything? What does it even feel like to be offended? To me, when people say stuff that is suppose to be offensive, I just hear it as someone saying something silly like "1 + 1 is 3". Or I think "this person has every right to say whatever the hell he wants to say, no matter how stupid I think it is and no matter how stupid it makes him seem". I just don't get it.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Hepth
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I agree with you for the most part. Even the TA stuff (I was a TA up until about 2 years ago) and I had the same thing, everyone else complained that their students we always complaining about grades. My students, even the ones with C's loved me because I was FAIR.

I also have no idea what it's like to be offended(by most things). I know when people say things that make me feel uncomfortable, I feel uncomfortable, but I wouldn't call it offensive (bad jokes by a friend or jokes at my expense). If someone tries to criticize anything I DO (physics/computers/nerdy stuff) or AM, I sort of chalk it up to their ignorance and usually end up feeling better about myself for not being like them.

I avoid certain topics as if they may cause someone duress (talking about death when their parent died recently, etc) or if it may embarrass them.

Ohh, I've come across one you can probably relate to, as I can to. Imagine a superior in your school (say, your adviser) : "Pengquino, we need the minimum of this function, do you know how to do that?" I would be offended. I would think "How the hell do you think I've made it this far without knowing basic Calculus."

That's the only think I think I would be truly offended by, those that are supposed to know you calling your intelligence or knowledge into question.

Or maybe a close friend that you've known for 20 years not knowing how to spell your last name.

Things that unexpectedly call into question your self-worth; those are what I am offended by.
 
  • #3
radou
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Then there are other cases (maybe this is just so pervasive because I live in California) where simply an action might offend someone. I can't dare speak about my beliefs unless I'm surrounded by people who agree with my beliefs even more than I do because I've been trained to believe that speaking my beliefs when people who disagree are around is offensive and thus, something to be avoided.
This is called political correctness, and it truly sucks.
 
  • #4
chiro
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Guilt is a funny mechanism as the tool of social control. Without it we'd all probably speak our mind, and do whatever the hell we wanted, but alas thats not the way it turned out (for most of us).
 
  • #5
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I always thoguht people don't want to offend people because nobody likes conflict. You're viewed as a jerk if you start conflicts, so nobody will like you. Everyone wants to be loved.

The first thing I thought about when I saw this thread was
 
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  • #6
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I think taking offense is a way of warning someone that you're approaching violence. I don't know if that's still the point, but it makes sense as an emergent property that warning displays in animals are preferable to violence in slow-breeding animals. I think a booby that's attracted or repelled by another booby's red throat-sac, is probably the animals equivalent of taking offense.

To me, not being offended is a plus, but being unable to sense what will offend another is crippling. I think for most, one informs the other, but within more intellectual circles you have people trying to get OVER their gut reactions.
 
  • #7
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Guilt is a funny mechanism as the tool of social control. Without it we'd all probably speak our mind, and do whatever the hell we wanted, but alas thats not the way it turned out (for most of us).
I think shame plays that role, because guilt requires that you think or do something first. Shame is far more powerful, where guilt can just be factual: you are guilty of a crime.
 
  • #8
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Completely agree pengwuino.

I don't get offended often, you really have to go out of your way to say something strong to get to me.

A post above is correct, for the most part it is political correctness rubbish. I agree there are some times that you need to be careful with your words, but aside from that I try to speak my mind. The way I look at it, I'm not there to tip toe around people and I personally prefer people to be straight with me.

If you ask for an opinion/response, don't be offended when it isn't what you were hoping for. I'm not here to blow smoke.
 
  • #9
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People tend to conflate their beliefs with their identity, and criticisms of beliefs is interpreted as an attack on that persons identity. This seems likely for things like religion and politics, where you not only subscribe to beliefs inherent in X-ism beliefs, you become an X-ist.

I think I have a good enough separation between my identity and my beliefs or arguments that I put forward that I rarely get offended.
 
  • #10
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I'm guessing that the origin of getting offended is a type of reflex for defending ones social status. If someone is publicly insulting you or questioning your believes, it is probably important to many to defend against the attack so that the other people in their surroundings does not change the way they look at them in a negative way, which they may if accusations are left unanswered and undisputed. While it may require more brain activity to formulate a defense I'm guessing "getting offended" may be the initial reflexive response with the purpose of meeting accusations immediately.

I guess it makes sense then that people who are a part of environments where (in some sense unmerited) social status is especially important, like gangs or when you're a teenager, are much more prone to get offended. Whereas we "enlightened" people who are confident in our status are less prone to get offended :wink:
 
  • #11
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I never really gave it much thought. Im honest and fair, and try not to insult or hurt feelings, but Im not dancing on eggshells for anyone, if they dont like it, well, what can I do. If you sugar coat everything and allow yourself to be manipulated by guilt, you certainly arent helping anyone. Political correctness is a load of rubbish too.
 
  • #12
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At its most basic level, offending someone is about creating distance between the two of you.
 
  • #13
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At its most basic level, offending someone is about creating distance between the two of you.
Well that depends on whether or not you intend to be offensive.

What I say and what someone hears are two different things.
 
  • #14
Dembadon
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Completely agree pengwuino.

I don't get offended often, you really have to go out of your way to say something strong to get to me.

A post above is correct, for the most part it is political correctness rubbish. I agree there are some times that you need to be careful with your words, but aside from that I try to speak my mind. The way I look at it, I'm not there to tip toe around people and I personally prefer people to be straight with me.

If you ask for an opinion/response, don't be offended when it isn't what you were hoping for. I'm not here to blow smoke.
I'm glad you mention that there can be a balance, because being straight with someone doesn't mean you have to be offensive.

In other words, it is often possible to be open and honest when expressing your opinions without being offensive. We have an in-law who constantly speaks his mind with zero tact -- he's an extremely unpleasant person to be around.

That said, some people look for reasons to be offended; I don't lose sleep over those types.
 
  • #15
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I'm glad you mention that there can be a balance, because being straight with someone doesn't mean you have to be offensive.

In other words, it is often possible to be open and honest when expressing your opinions without being offensive. We have an in-law who constantly speaks his mind with zero tact -- he's an extremely unpleasant person to be around.
Exactly. Telling someone "I think you sleep around too much" isn't the same as saying "you're a slut". Even if they mean the same thing. In one case you're trying to be honest with someone in the other you're just going for offensive.

Unless you're going for shock and awe (everything else failed to get through) then the latter is not the best way to express yourself as it is going for offensive (true or not).

Like I said, I won't tip toe around an issue with people but that doesn't mean I'll just launch into verbal assault.
That said, some people look for reasons to be offended; I don't lose sleep over those types.
These are people I bid good day to and move on.
 
  • #16
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Well that depends on whether or not you intend to be offensive.

What I say and what someone hears are two different things.
I'm not making a value judgement, or saying that it's a fault issue. The reality is that when someone is offended, they retreat. They may retreat behind a hail of angry words, but above all they distance themselves from you. If you INTENDED to offend the person, it's going to be worse, but intent or not the results are the same.

If you say, "I like bacon crispy, not floppy." Then someone feels offended because you're discussing pork, you've done nothing to intentionally offend them, but they are offended, and the distance created. Offense gives us a sense of the boundaries of other people without having to grossly violate them in a meaningful way.
 
  • #17
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I'm not making a value judgement, or saying that it's a fault issue. The reality is that when someone is offended, they retreat. They may retreat behind a hail of angry words, but above all they distance themselves from you. If you INTENDED to offend the person, it's going to be worse, but intent or not the results are the same.
You said (emphasis mine):
At its most basic level, offending someone is about creating distance between the two of you.
The above only applies in circumstances of a person being deliberately offensive.

If you take offence at something I say (even though I didn't mean it to be so), I have still offended you. But, it is not about me trying to distance us.

My response was simply in this regard.

If I am straight with you and don't degrade into personal insults and slurs then I couldn't care less if you are offended. I'm not concerned if you take it badly - I'm just calling it like I see it - as long as I'm not deliberately trying to offend you.
 
  • #18
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You said (emphasis mine):


The above only applies in circumstances of a person being deliberately offensive.

If you take offence at something I say (even though I didn't mean it to be so), I have still offended you. But, it is not about me trying to distance us.

My response was simply in this regard.

If I am straight with you and don't degrade into personal insults and slurs then I couldn't care less if you are offended. I'm not concerned if you take it badly - I'm just calling it like I see it - as long as I'm not deliberately trying to offend you.
I disagree, but just to make what I was saying clear, there's a reason I didn't say that it was about trying to distance someone else from you. You can be completely right, and well intentioned, someone else gets offended and walks out of the room. You may be able to talk to them later, or maybe not: offending someone else creates distance.

When you're offended, someone else has come too close to your intellectual or emotional personal space, but that doesn't mean your space is reasonable or right. I'll give this one more go:

Lets pretend that I'm so ugly it makes you physically ill, and in fact I make nearly everyone I see disturbed and horrified. Some people are going to tease and torment me, some will act in a manner I find offensive (staring, that kind of thing), but everyone will NOTICE. If the initial reaction that some people can't stop offends me, it's not their fault or mine, you've just learned that for me all it takes to offend is knowledge that others find me ugly, and that beyond being ugly I take up a lot of emotional space.
 
  • #19
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I disagree, but just to make what I was saying clear, there's a reason I didn't say that it was about trying to distance someone else from you.
Yes, you did:
Nicodemus said:
At its most basic level, offending someone is about creating distance between the two of you.
When you're offended, someone else has come too close to your intellectual or emotional personal space, but that doesn't mean your space is reasonable or right. I'll give this one more go:

Lets pretend that I'm so ugly it makes you physically ill, and in fact I make nearly everyone I see disturbed and horrified. Some people are going to tease and torment me, some will act in a manner I find offensive (staring, that kind of thing), but everyone will NOTICE. If the initial reaction that some people can't stop offends me, it's not their fault or mine, you've just learned that for me all it takes to offend is knowledge that others find me ugly, and that beyond being ugly I take up a lot of emotional space.
What exactly are you arguing here?

The thread topic is "why do we care if we offend people?".

Like I said before, what I say and what you hear are two different things. My point being that for the most part, I don't care if I offend you as long as I don't do it deliberately - nothing to do with how you take it. That's a different issue.

You are confusing the reaction of a listener with the intention of the speaker.

For some people they try to avoid saying anything that may cause offence, they try to preempt a reaction - which is where political correctness goes mad. You get people caring too much about offending someone. Again, this is nothing to do with someone's reaction, only a potential reaction the speaker has generated in their head.
 
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  • #20
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Yes, you did:



What exactly are you arguing here?

The thread topic is "why do we care if we offend people?".

Like I said before, what I say and what you hear are two different things. My point being that for the most part, I don't care if I offend you as long as I don't do it deliberately - nothing to do with how you take it. That's a different issue.

You are confusing the reaction of a listener with the intention of the speaker.

For some people they try to avoid saying anything that may cause offence, they try to preempt a reaction - which is where political correctness goes mad. You get people caring too much about offending someone. Again, this is nothing to do with someone's reaction, only a potential reaction the speaker has generated in their head.
You should always care when you change how others view you, even if it's not your intent. You don't have to care about offending people until that act of offense, intentional or not, leads to undesirable results.
 
  • #21
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You should always care when you change how others view you, even if it's not your intent. You don't have to care about offending people until that act of offense, intentional or not, leads to undesirable results.
It's called political correctness. Yes, to a point I accept it. But, there is a stage where political correctness goes mad. You end up with people trying to contemplate every offence that may be caused and trying to prevent it.

I am not going to censor what I say because it may offend you. I will censor what I say if I know it will offend you.

If you can't accept constructive criticism then that's your problem, not mine. I'm not going to blow smoke up your backside.

The topic here, at least the way I see it, is why do some people care more about potentially offending than other people?

As I've said before, for me it's a case of not caring so long as I'm not trying to offend you. For others, it is a case of considering everything they say for fear of offending. I see this as ridiculous.
 
  • #22
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I'm talking about practical concerns, not PC. PC seeks to avoid offence for its own sake; I"m saying that you don't call your boss a jerk, or fat, or old. You don't offend people for practical reasons, and after a while it becomes a habit. If the content of what you're saying just happens to be offensive to a minority, that's too bad unless they're potential friends, or in authority.

I am not arguing for the PC view that language hurts; bullying hurts in whatever form it comes, but that doesn't mean the converse it true: bullying can involve offending people, but offending people does not mean you're a bully.
 
  • #23
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I'm talking about practical concerns, not PC. PC seeks to avoid offence for its own sake; I"m saying that you don't call your boss a jerk, or fat, or old. You don't offend people for practical reasons, and after a while it becomes a habit. If the content of what you're saying just happens to be offensive to a minority, that's too bad unless they're potential friends, or in authority.

I am not arguing for the PC view that language hurts; bullying hurts in whatever form it comes, but that doesn't mean the converse it true: bullying can involve offending people, but offending people does not mean you're a bully.
Then I've lost the point of what you're arguing here.

What you've written above agrees with what I said initially: "I don't care if I offend you as long as I don't do it deliberately". I don't see why adding "minority" changes that.

I don't see where bullying comes into it.

I'm just dropping this now as it could go on forever.
 
  • #24
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Do you care if you accidentally offend the girl you're courting?
 
  • #25
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Do you care if you accidentally offend the girl you're courting?
I think you'd have a really good laugh watching me speak to someone. I'm not a particularly emotional person. If I unintentionally offend someone I don't react, it just doesn't bother me.

"I don't care if I offend you as long as I don't do it deliberately."

Really can't make it much clearer than that.
 

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