It’s the beginning of the school year and the book burners are lighting matches once again. Most of the time book burners attack particular books using some form of the word “offense” in their reasons for banning books from our school libraries. In a society where books are sometimes banned because of one word amongst thousands appearing on the page it appears that nearly all college professors and educational gurus and their polar opposites often lumped under the “right-wing conservative” label believe that because something is old or proven or might be enjoyable or efficient and logical makes it at best wrong and at worst a danger to the continued survival of our society. It now appears axiomatic in our media and our society that if something offends even one person it must offend us all.
Clearly I am not politically correct or even remotely sensitive to concerns that I might offend someone with what I believe to be the truth. I try to be careful with my words but I still honestly believe that in most cases words only hurt us when we let them (a lesson I learned as the slow short fat kid in elementary school) while we don’t have any choice about sticks and stones. When I do something that “offends” someone (I would guess it happens more frequently than I am aware of, probably right now for example) and someone mentions that they feel offended and are then able to give a salient reason why they are offended I usually spend some time in thought judging my perceived offense. If after thought I realize I have spoken of something that is illogical or untrue I will apologize but I often respond in kind that, “I too am offended.” I am offended not because of what I have done or said but because, they are offended. In short their need to be offended by the particulars of words or language rather than the meaning or truth of the message offends me greatly.
Often the word offended is bandied because it is fashionable to be offended with no real evaluation of the truth or intent of the “offensive” speech rather concern only with the method by which the message was delivered. I have little patience with those who are offended because I wasn’t supposed to use a particular word or phrases under the control of politically correct speech. Words that are not obscene, scatological, nihilistic or untrue but simply in someone’s opinion defined as “offensive”. I have no problem with people who disagree with me nor that we can argue a point with no eventual solution, but I bristle at the fact that being “offended” is too often used as an excuse for trying to change, silence or deny what is said without any judgment of whether or not it is reasonable and/or correct.
I agree that certain words for the general good of society should now remain unsaid and generally unwritten but people who deny their existence and ban books written in a different time place or society because of “offensive” words are like a person who waits until they are foaming at the mouth to admit they have rabies. The genie is out of the bottle. A short walk down the halls of virtually any middle school in the US during passing period or before or after school, with your ears open will disabuse you of any thought that the banned words and ideas are being controlled.
Offended is now such a loaded word and in most cases used in such a meaningless fashion that I almost always react negatively when someone uses it. Which counts more the “offended” persons often knee jerk ill-defined sense of offense or my own? It also disturbs me but doesn’t offend me, that the very people who were screaming “free speech” in the 60’s are now tireless advocates of political correctness. I ask not that we allow adolescents a totally free rein in controlling what they see and read but that we thoughtfully consider whether the potentially offensive nature of the words or the underlying meaning or value of the writing is the more important consideration.