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As long as there’s been an internet, there’s been outrage. Whether you hung out on an America Online channel, a CompuServe message forum, or alt.politics.usa.screaming.eagle, there was a market for yelling at anonymous strangers about the news of the day.
With the internet saturation provided by iPhones and social media, outrage is ubiquitous. People want attention and it’s easier to get it through anger than reason. But all this taking of offense is poisoning the public square, civil society, and all of our health (mental and physical).
What’s most tragic is that taking offense is a choice; you can decline it any time you want. I wrote about this over the weekend for the local fishwrap:
I’ve never understood why people get offended by, well, anything. Even if someone attempts an insult, it’s up to you to choose whether to accept it as such. Just as you shouldn’t give others the power over your emotional state, you can’t be offended without your consent.
Or as some fancy-pants old white cisgendered male said, “Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.”
Epictetus wrote that in The Enchiridion, Greek for “the handbook,” which means I have appropriated Greco-Phrygian culture. And if you’re offended on behalf of that extinct ethnicity, you need to keep reading.
Let’s reinterpret this 2,000-year-old dead white male for modern audiences. When a thin-skinned audience member shouts “I’m offended!” at a stand-up comic, it only reveals the heckler’s fragile psyche and low self-worth.
If you’re insulted when a co-worker holds the door for his female associate, you are projecting your hang-ups on what is most likely a simple act of politeness. If a Swedish bongo player sports blonde dreadlocks and you’re offended instead of amused, you have more baggage than a deposed Haitian dictator fleeing to Paris.
In our increasingly mad world, there’s no shortage of things to take offense at. But being offended doesn’t solve anything, it’s just emotional incontinence.
Here’s a better option: If you’re offended by lying politicians, work to replace them. If you’re offended by homelessness, volunteer at your local soup kitchen. If you’re offended by this post, write a response.
It sure feels better than typing “I’m offended!” on Twitter.