I just read a conservative article that included the pithy observation that “the leftist mission statement is ‘Let’s Find Something to Ramp Up Our Butthurt Today.’ Being offended is their raison d’être.” This is all we hear about, over and over, all these people offended by this and offended by that. The offended ones are very often to the left politically, those for whom being offended is almost the worst thing possible, second only to racism itself. We often hear lately how it’s killed comedy, with comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock being cancelled on college campuses. However, the left does not have a monopoly on taking offense. It is also rampant on the other side of the political aisle. It’s become insinuated into the fiber of American life.
People might forget that it didn’t always used to be that way. Believe it or not, there was a time before “I’m offended” became a popular American catchphrase. If you would have walked up to someone during, say, the Nixon administration and told them, “I’m offended,” the person would likely have blinked and not known what the heck you were talking about. You would have had to explain yourself, what you meant by “offended,” and why that was something that mattered to anyone. Eventually the person would have understood it to mean, “you hurt my feelings,” an expression more familiar at the time. The person would then have likely laughed derisively at you and told you to get over it.
The whole “I’m offended” thing started in the early 80s when the American zeitgeist changed. The person with hurt feelings was elevated from crybaby to victim, with the onus moving from the one taking offense to the one giving offense. This cultural paradigm shift is memorialized in this Bloom County comic strip from the period:
Taking offense has been weaponized over the last 40 years, and “The Offended” have perfected their craft. Taking offense is now a tool used to win arguments, to get one’s way, to force others to capitulate to your will, and to undermine all opposition and dissent. Maybe you’re offended by what I’m writing? Whatever one’s views, whoever is personally guilty of giving offense or taking offense where none was intended, it does not have to be this way.
It strikes me that thankfulness is, in many ways, the opposite of offendedness. Instead of looking for reasons to nurse a grudge, maybe we can look for common ground? Maybe try to notice that Seinfeld and Chris Rock are actually funny? Instead of splitting hairs over a particular ill-chosen word, maybe try harder to get the person’s meaning? As St. Francis asked in his famous Prayer, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek… to be understood, as to understand.”
The forces of destruction are currently seeking to abolish the Thanksgiving holiday. They are taking their usual “glass half empty” approach in being offended at the Pilgrims for deeds which they did not commit, all the historical tragedy that occurred in the centuries after they were dead. But the true message is lost, that the Pilgrims were grateful to the LORD for having survived a difficult year in a harsh wilderness, where so many of their friends and family had perished. Certainly every American today, 400 years later, has so much for which to be grateful. However, here in our prosperous, entitled 21st century America, thankfulness is in decline while taking offense abounds. America will become a very poor place indeed if the spirit of Thanksgiving were ever extinguished.
Some thoughts to ponder as we gather with loved ones tomorrow. Wishing you all a healthy and pleasant Thanksgiving.