Lewis: Are we too easily offended?
Throughout my years in elementary and junior high school, I was a victim of what you might call macroaggression. I was bullied. The bullying was not subtle or unintentional, it was intentional, cruel and sometimes physical. The bullying stemmed from the usual stuff. I was geeky-looking, wore bifocal glasses, played in the band, and was terrible at most sports.
While I would not wish bullying on anyone, it did have an unforeseen positive effect. It taught me how to have a thick skin for insults and criticism and helped me to have more grit for the trials and tribulations life inevitably threw at me.
Recently, I was reading about microaggressions. Like it sounds, microaggressions are minor offensive slights where the offender is usually unaware of their offense. One often-used example is asking someone “Where are you from?” with the recipient believing the question was asked because they appear to be from a foreign country or do not look “native.” But, when you live in a resort town, the first question we usually ask strangers is, “Where are you from?” I never considered this innocuous question to be an offensive one.
A college in California went so far as to ban the word “field” and replace it with the word “practicum” as “field” used in a phrase like “I’m going into the field,” could, in their stretch of the imagination, be seen as racist. It seems like a reach to me. I guess if you play baseball there you have to say you play center practicum.
While I don’t want to diminish the harm or offense from truly insensitive or racist remarks, the question is — have we gone too far?
Support Local Journalism
To this day, people call me a “nerd” because I love to dive deep into technical things. When I was lamenting to a group of young adults at dinner about them all being on their phones and not engaging in the conversation, I got the response “OK boomer.” I guess I could be offended, but to me, this is nothing to get worked up about.
My son is disabled and has prosthetic legs. At the airport on his trip here for the holidays, a woman approached him and asked, “Can I pray for you?” This happens frequently to him and while he does consider it offensive, he is never rude. He just responds with: “Why?” People are usually taken aback. He continues and says, “God made me this way. I have no need to pray about it. How about we pray for you?”
Being offended by what other people say is a choice. It may be appropriate to be offended in some cases, but everyone has a choice in how to react. Sometimes, people are intentionally cruel but, in most cases, they probably don’t even realize what they said was somehow offensive.
The term “microaggression” itself seems to imply that the offending individual is purposely “aggressive” and trying to be a bully, which is likely not the case. The woman who approached my son was not a bully, she was simply trying to be nice.
The Atlantic calls this new trend “the rise of the victimhood culture.” The essence is that people are now overreacting to even the slightest perceived offenses, even though most are unintentional. I think this has two negative effects. First, it sets the bar for political correctness so high that people will simply avoid interactions with others they don’t know well. Second, it diminishes our ability to call out and address real bullying and racism.
Maybe it is time that we just ease back on taking offense at every minor slight or find more ways to respond to these minor irritations with grace and compassion rather than going nuclear on people.
Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.