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Who Doth Offend Thee?

Rusty - November 8, 2004

About a month ago I wrote a post about a crazy commitment given by a bishop. My take was that the bishop’s council was a bit kooky. In the comments I was called to repentance at least once and no less than three people vowed they would never return. I think they were offended. And frankly, that offends me.

Before I went to BYU I had never been exposed to such large scale offense-taking. The letters to the editor of the Daily Universe opened my eyes to this aspect of Mormon culture I had never been a part of. I often asked myself if the writers were earnest truth-seekers or a hilarious satire fabricated by the editors? As it turns out, they were real. Oh, they were real.

I religiously read Eric Snider’s column, as it regularly invoked wrath (in the form of letters to the editor) from the student body. He wrote a perfect parody of those letters. I became dismayed at how many seemingly normal (uh…) students would get so upset about something that someone else said. If someone else is committing the (apparent) sin, why are you so offended?

This leads me to my first question:

1) Is taking offense a virtue?

Using God as the measuring stick, apparently he constantly gets offended: “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against not is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” But that doesn’t really answer my question, being something that I couldn’t possibly get offended for. Someone once said that the more like Christ we are, the less offended we get. Hmmmm….

On a blog about obscene conversation, John Fowles recently remarked, “…those things are to be avoided. Partaking in them leads to desensitivity… and causes a general blind-spot or callous to grow in place that could or should be a spiritual barometer (i.e. our speech and thoughts).” I agree that bad speech, thoughts (and actions) are all bad. But is the callous bad if we aren’t doing those bad things? Can’t it actually be advantageous?

An example:

My mom hates the F-word. She’s offended whenever she hears it. She feels that it’s poor communication and incredibly dirty. Me? I don’t even hear it anymore. She’s sad about that. I think I’m better off now that I’m lifted of the burden of being bothered every time I hear it (which is often, I live in Brooklyn). Some would say that I’ve been de-sensitized (or past feeling). They’re right!

Another example:

In my line of work (graphic design) I constantly have to look through photographer’s portfolios. Oftentimes they have nudes. This is unavoidable. However, I might be at a point now that I don’t even notice them any more than any other photo. I’m not “offended” or even stimulated. You could say that I’m past feeling or desensitized. There is a callous there.

Now my second question:

2) Can being desensitized be a virtue?

I’m not going to be able to avoid the F-words here in New York. Neither am I going to be able to avoid the nude photographs. So isn’t it better than I don’t hear the word and don’t feel any sense of lust inside me when I see the photos BETTER than the contrary? Isn’t it better that I have developed a callous there?

Now, I also say that it would be horrible to be desensitized to p0rnography. But of course that is something that I can avoid. So maybe it might be best to say that it’s good to be desensitized to those things over which you have no control, but sensitive to those you control? Is this part of what it means to live in the world and not of it?

1 Comment »

  1. On being offended. I firmly believe that taking offense is a choice. If you don’t want to be offended, particularly when no offense is intended, you won’t be.

    On being desensitized. It may make life easier for you, but I don’t see that as anything inherently virtuous. In fact, I think being desensitized is generally harmful.

    Staying up really late is not very virtuous either, so I’m going to bed.
    Chris Williams | Email | Homepage | 11.09.04 – 1:16 am | #

    I’m not going to be able to avoid the F-words here in New York. Neither am I going to be able to avoid the nude photographs. So isn’t it better than I don’t hear the word and don’t feel any sense of lust inside me when I see the photos BETTER than the contrary? Isn’t it better that I have developed a callous there?

    This is a very good case in favor of certain kinds of desensitivity. I agree with Chris Williams, however, that this doesn’t necessarily elevate it to the level of a virtue. In a global sense, being desensitized or past feeling is harmful if it deadens your ability to discern God’s word or be led by the spirit.
    john fowles | Email | Homepage | 11.09.04 – 11:43 am | #

    I think that Ebenezer Orthodoxy needs to comment on this post. I really do. He ought to mention something about letters to the editors of the Daily Universe. He’ll know what I’m talking about if he reads this comment.
    danithew | Email | Homepage | 11.09.04 – 6:55 pm | #

    One problem with becoming desensitized to certain “bad” things is the impression you may be giving others. If I don’t know you and I see that you are desensitized to words – pictures – or whatever that would “normally” offend someone sensitive to the spirit I may get the wrong impression of you. Thinking that you don’t care, or aren’t offended and should be.

    Then again if I’m watching you and deciding what you should be offended about the maybe I should be watching me more instead.

    And by the way mom may be offended at the “f” word, but “sh*%” seems to be one of her favorites when she hurts herself and blurts out someting!
    Don | Email | Homepage | 11.09.04 – 7:11 pm | #

    Don, LOL!!! Yeah, and she also enjoys damn and hell on occasion as well.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 11.09.04 – 7:17 pm | #

    Well, as for the taking offense thing, I think it falls under the category of forgiveness. The Lord says that it is required that we forgive all, and that if we do not, the greater sin is in us.
    And as for the desensitization thing, I’ve heard several of the Church leaders speak out against the desensitizing effects of television and other influences that cause us to no longer react (called habituation in psychology) to things that would have shocked us previously.
    What is that about first we condone, then we accept, then embrace…?
    Satan binds us first with flaxen cords….
    Peggy Cahill | Email | Homepage | 11.09.04 – 8:25 pm | #

    I don’t think we choose not to take offense. Rather we may build up a habit of not taking offense or we may choose not to act on our offense.

    For instance while I was climbing up on the Tetons I had to go to the bathroom. Those of you who’ve been there know there is only the one bathroom on the saddle which consists of two seats rather close to one another. Well I’m there doing my duty and this girl comes in, looks at me, takes off her pants, sits beside me and proceeds to urinate. I was more than a little shocked. Probably there was an instinctive kind of offense. But, upon conscious reflection I figured, hey, who cares.
    Clark | Email | Homepage | 11.09.04 – 9:33 pm | #

    Good post, Russ.
    I think you said it best when you talked about desensitsizing ourselves to offensive things we can’t avoid. It makes sense to me, but I don’t know for sure if it is right. The hard part is discerning WHAT exactly are the things we can and cannot avoid.
    Also, I think especial care should be taken of keeping offensive things out of our home. I may not be able to avoid vulgar language or licentious images in public, but I can definetely keep it out of what is supposed to be a sanctuary and second most sacred place on earth.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 2:16 am | #

    I’m often told (not always in a complimentary way) that I’m one of the most desensitized members of the Church that people know. Like you, Rusty, I actually prefer being desensitized to many things. I live in the Bronx myself, so allowing vulgar language to bounce right off me is a definite plus, and overall it’s just easier and more liberating not to allow others the power over me to cause me to take offense.

    One thing to keep in mind (and this is along the lines of what Bret mentioned) is how our actions may offend others. Just because something doesn’t offend me doesn’t mean I should be insensitive to the fact that it likely offends others, even if it is a choice or a habit for them to let it do so.

    I’m pleased that the same people who tell me I’m desensitized note that I rarely give offense to others (well, at least outside the Bloggernacle). I work very hard at respecting the sensibilities of others, and while I could do much better, I think that’s much more important than maintaining my ability to be offended or outraged.

    Besides, I love heavy metal too much.
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 12:06 pm | #

    That’s an interesting take, that it falls under forgiveness. I like that.

    That is hysterical. I can only imagine your shock. But I guess after a few years of being married, that’s just not so offensive anymore. But I think I often do the same, I am shocked initially, but then think about it and say, who cares.

    I think you (and most everyone else) are right in that it’s best not to be desensitized to those things that could harm us. Maybe I phrased my second question poorly (hey, I wanted it to be similar to my first one, give a guy a break). It should have been, “Are there occasions when it’s best to be desensitized?” or something to that effect.

    That’s interesting to turn it around to how our actions affect others. I think you’re right.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 2:55 pm | #

    So, what are these hypothetical things to which it would be harmful to be desensitized? What things could harm us if we’re desensitized to them?
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 3:24 pm | #

    Hmm, that was great. When I wrote it I thought I was asking two different questions, but they came out exactly the same. Oh well — I guess I only had one question.
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 3:25 pm | #

    I think it would harm us to be desensitized to unkindness. I was teaching a lesson to the young men once (don’t know how that happened; I was a substitute and it must have been a sunday school class with only young men present). Also don’t remember the topic, but I do remember trying to help them understand the difference between nice and kind. I suggested that anyone could be nice, but that it was a social construct, rather like a thin veneer, and that they should be trying to be kind in a more genuine, solid wood sort of way. That kindness was born out of love, and that we should strive for our motivations in interpersonal relationships to ultimately be the pure love of Christ, and not just a social convenience to get us what we want. So I guess my point is that we should not let ourselves be desensitized to unkindness in ourselves mostly, because as soon as it is ok to be unkind, how close are we to thinking it’s ok to be cruel?

    On offense, my mother frequently quotes someone (Clemens?): if you let yourself be offended when _no_ offense is meant you’re a fool, and if you let yourself be offended when offense _is_ meant, you’re a bigger fool. So maybe we _should_ be desensitized to intended offense.
    marta | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 4:54 pm | #

    I think it would be correct to say that some Mormons think they have some sort of duty to act offended when they are confronted with a slice of life that doesn’t conform to the Mormon standard of righeousness and good behavior. I don’t know that Mormons are unique in this–I’m sure some Evangelicals do it, too–but I probably notice it more when Mormons do it.

    Those who follow the “there’s a chip or two on my shoulder” game plan often overplay their hand, being offended not only at truly offensive words or behavior, but also at conduct that is perfectly legal and generally inoffensive in the rest of society: smoking, drinking, voting Democratic. I think there’s something to be said for a bit more meekness in dealing with those who follow a different creed or lifestyle.
    Dave | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 5:16 pm | #

    I recall years ago a talk I heard in church. The topic was about taking offense. The speaker said, “to take offense is in and of itself, offensive.” That really struck me.

    At times I have found my feelings hurt, but to be offended means that I know the other persons intention and choose to be unforgiving. So I choose to not take offense.
    At least it’s working for me so far.
    KeLee | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 6:01 pm | #

    Do you think it would be fair to say that it’s fine (maybe good) to be desensitized to others’ actions to the point where you’re not offended, but that we shouldn’t become desensitized to the spiritual or moral consequences of our own actions? Or does that statement need some more refinement?
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 11.10.04 – 9:37 pm | #

    That quote from your mother is excellent! I’m writing it down in my scriptures!

    Same with the quote from that talk you heard

    I think your statement is clear and makes a lot of sense, though I don’t know if that is the only thing we should not get desensitized to. I’d have to think more on what else might fit that category, however too.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 11.11.04 – 1:17 am | #

    Isn’t that quote from Brigham Young?
    VeritasLiberat | Email | Homepage | 11.12.04 – 11:21 pm | #

    I kean the one about letting yourself be offended when no offense is meant, etc.
    VeritasLiberat | Email | Homepage | 11.12.04 – 11:35 pm | #

    People are going to be offended no matter what we do. People are offended when we do good things, people get offended when nothing happens, and then there are people who make up things to be offended by, and then there are actual occassions when being offended is a valid reaction.

    However, I find that BYU is a breeding ground for people being offended for no particular reason other than to be offended. Also, if something does offend you, do you really have to point it out to everyone around you (for example the letters to the editor)? Or is there a better, more Christlike way, of handling such offenses.

    A good example would be a movie being shown at a party that you are offended by. It is much better to leave without any fan fair, and allow those who are not offended to enjoy the evening. Announcing your offense and then giving a little sermon about it will not make others feel good about you, and the host will be embarrassed. Then your actions will cause all kinds of offenses to take place.

    If someone is offended and chooses not to do something, fine, great even. We have our agency in all things, but what we don’t have is a right to force our points of view on others. When living in the spirit of love, we will know the right way to handle things that truly need to be addressed.
    Aimee Roo | Email | Homepage | 11.13.04 – 10:59 pm | #

    Here is an extreme case. An old woman in my home ward was raped and strangled in her home one night. My view is I have a duty to be offended by that. If I didn’t care, my callousness would be … offensive.
    John Mansfield | Email | Homepage | 11.15.04 – 3:21 pm | #



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