What offends you? I must admit, very few things offend me, if any. I like to think about the content of someone’s words, their context, their intent especially. To quote the great George R.R. Martin in his book A Game Of Thrones, “Words are wind”. Some speech can be nuanced and hard to decipher and I cannot catch everything. I am however, a big defender of free speech, to the extreme. Say whatever you want, let it out, that way, we will know how and what you think, you will reveal your take on different issues. By letting people talk, you allow them to reveal who they are. If you let someone talk long enough, they will let the truth slip out, inadvertently or not. Humans have this unspoken need to let out the truth. Lying doesn’t come easy. The truth always wants, longs to come out. Maybe that is why we are so bad at lying.
On a personal level, I do my best to not get offended because I think my judgment could be clouded by mere words and I would forget to think about the intention, which is as important as the words themselves, if not more. Once upon a time, as a young man, who was still developing his sense of self, I was getting offended by a few things. Growing up in a conservative country like Burundi, jokes were never made about God, parents, death, genocide, illnesses, invalidity, etc. Yet, in Greece, my other home, jokes are made about everything, especially God and religion. The Greeks have a strong love/hate relationship with God and the clergy that translates in appropriating religious terms to use them as insults. If you can joke about God, nothing else is off limits, right? So, growing up in 2 cultures and 2 countries, it was a bit unsettling in that specific area. An internal battle existed in me, as to what one could joke about. This thin equilibrium was making me a bit dizzy, but I was lucky I never fell.
Then, a revelation came out of the sky, as if sent by God Himself. It wasn’t but I am doing this for dramatic effect. When I was 16, a book was given to me, which title was “Ta mere”. The literal translation is “your mama” in English and as you might have guessed by now, it was a small book full of “your mama” jokes. It left a tremendous impact on my young teenage psyche. The jokes ranged from mild and innocent to full blown hurtful/inappropriate by society’s standards.
You must understand something about me: my mother is the most sacred person in my life, my dad being a close second. My mother has shown me nothing but love, encouragement and has been nurturing as only a mother could be. Moreover, when I was old enough to be in relationships, she knew to never meddle and let me be a man, be my own man. She never became like one of those mothers who think their sons are forever boys and who critique every person their son is with, believing no woman is good enough for their baby boys, who have become men by then. I am her son, but I also am my own man. It takes a very mature and confident woman to allow her son to grow into a man and not interfere into his relationships with his significant other. She is literally awesomely amazing.
Back to the book. As I was reading it, I saw the deconstruction of the mother, the most sacred entity in my life, and it was mostly done in a funny way. The book was making fun of mothers!! What a sacrilege in my young mind, but that shit was funny! Yes, some jokes were raunchy and edgy, but I saw them as pure jokes, with no bad intent behind the words. Time went by and as a lover of comedy, I became interested in some daring comedians such as Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Louis CK (before his sexual scandals but he is still funny as hell), Bill Burr, Wanda Sykes and the legendary George Carlin, whose deconstruction of the ten commandments is legendary (YouTube it).
I am one of those few people who believes that you can joke about anything, a belief held by few. It doesn’t mean those few are right or wrong. How can you expect a rape joke to make laugh someone who has been raped? I get it. Things are rarely as simple as they seem. I get it when people are offended by certain subjects but what offends you doesn’t necessarily offend others and vice versa. Where is the line? Is there a line? In this 2018 world, where everyone is over sensitive, it has become perilous to make fun of anyone and everyone. What is the difference between a joke and a statement? One cannot make fun of gay people or women or black people or disabled people? You sure can. It all depends on how the joke is constructed and told.
Taking offense is usually a knee jerk reaction to our own perceptions and values. It stems from our education, environment, upbringing, personal experiences and so much more. Yet, one must find the fortitude to stop for a second and think before reacting instinctively. Easier said that done, right? I know. I don’t have the answers, I just know what I do.
Once again, it is about training. I wasn’t always this open minded, but I have learned to widen my thought process mechanism. As soon as you are offended, your brain blocks out every other relevant information about the message, its intent and the messenger. Things are rarely simple, I admit it. Take your time and listen, you could end up finding some nuance. Listening to others who say the opposite of what you think is the cornerstone of every free and democratic society. There is so much I hate about what people say but I have learned to live with it. Plus, ignoring the vile things that people say, it doesn’t make the vile things go away. I will elaborate on this last part in tomorrow’s post. I am not here to tell you what should or shouldn’t offend you. I am just saying that taking offense at a lot of things, can impair your judgement and thought process. That is all.
For now, and forever, this is just one man’s opinion…
Now, smile, try not to take offense easily and go on with your day.