Warning: naughty language sprinkled throughout.
I had one of those sinking moments the other day when someone said they were offended by a word I used in an article.
Then I remembered a comedy piece I saw that told me what happens when people get offended: absolutely nothing.
Yep, that’s right. “Offense,” in and of itself, is just a feeling (or more accurately, a collection of thoughts and beliefs, but let’s keep this simple!). “Being offended” gives you no special powers, does not make you an advocate or a victim or a martyr. It’s not until someone takes action that “taking offense” can change things—for better or for worse. So, despite the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach (I am a tad sensitive to criticism), there was actually no need for me to respond.
And that got me thinking—when did we all become so scared of feeling bad?
When did offense or fear or sadness become so problematic that we have actually reached the point of legislating against “making” someone else feel these things in case they go postal? And, yes, that is the point we have reached. Are we so sacred of feeling because we have forgotten how to not dump our feelings all over everyone else?
We just had a federal election here in Australia and, like with all politics these days, the fear-mongering, small mindedness and bigotry crawled out from under the carpet and featured heavily in the media and campaigning. Even though we have not really had any big scary “events” (I refuse to call it terrorism) here, there is a lot of fear being thrown around and several candidates were running on the platform of immigration and religious control.
This was followed by a popular morning show host supporting religious control, resulting in the usual shit storm of trolling and death threats against her. I did read a couple of really nice op-ed pieces written that did not support her viewpoint, but validated her feelings of fear of potential problems occurring here.
And that’s kind of the point here.
Our feelings are okay. It is okay to be scared in the face of extremist religious action (by anyone—it is by no means limited to those of the Muslim faith), it is okay to take offense to something said or done by another person, it is okay to be sad or worried or triumphant (just look at the Olympians). Feelings are a complex reaction to a whole bunch of thoughts, beliefs, conditions and circumstances.
What is not okay, however, is to behave atrociously based on these feelings. Being scared is cool; behaving like an asshole is not. Taking offense is okay; attacking the other person (physically or verbally) is not. Being sad is fine; yelling at your most loved ones is not. Being triumphant is cool; being arrogant or smug is not so cool. Have your feelings, but don’t spray at the world because of them.
I am helping a friend to teach her four-year-old that, “Yes, you are having big feelings right now, but Mummy is not for hitting.” But he’s four (and going through some serious family trauma)—it is excusable that his feelings sometimes get the better of him. We are grown-ass adults. There is no excuse.
“But I…” I hear you say.
But you what? No matter your history, no matter your family, no matter your present, you are a grown-ass adult and there is no excuse for behaving appallingly.
Nope, I am not saying you can always control your feelings or what you believe or your thoughts, but you are in control of your actions. It is pretty much as simple as that. Not ever easy, but simple.
Do you choose to be right or to be kind?
Do you choose to be judgmental or understanding?
Do you choose to yell or smile?
Do you choose to make eye contact and smile or look away?
Yes, sometimes these are the hardest choices you will ever have to make! And you are a grown-ass adult! “But I…”. Nope. You are a grown-ass adult. Your behavior is your responsibility. Dumping your feelings all over anyone else—be it your closest loved one or a stranger on the other end of a computer link is not okay.
“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”
~ Joan Didion
Yes, I know responsibility is a big and loaded word. I know that it is heavy and we throw it around, expecting people to just catch it and change. Not that simple. But what if we break the word down into its simplest meaning:
Responsibility = your ability to respond.
And so, how you respond is up to you. That is your behavior. You don’t have to feel love and happiness all the time to make the world a better place. Fear is okay. Sadness is okay. Offense, guilt, anger, triumph, frustration, arrogance, whatever. Feelings are okay. Assholery is not.
Behaving well is a choice. I promise it will make you feel better and surely that is the first step to a better world.
Author: Tui Anderson
Editor: Catherine Monkman