Sometimes things don’t make sense on paper. The world can often be paradoxical – seemingly absurd or self-contradictory.
I, myself, can be a walking paradox at times. I don’t like heights, and yet I’ve gone skydiving. I loathe violence, and the sight of blood makes me squeamish, and yet for some reason, I love a good scary movie – especially around Halloween.
Now, all of those paradoxes could be chalked up to liking a good adrenaline rush from time to time. But there are other tendencies I have that make less sense than that.
For example, I follow people on Twitter who I find to be incredibly annoying. It’s not hard to find a person or two (or three or four) to follow who constantly shares self-congratulatory, egocentric, ridiculous and even offensive tweets. They cause me to roll my eyes, smirk, scoff, and wonder why on earth they would say what they just said. I could (and should) easily click the “unfollow” button. But, I don’t. How does that make sense?
Or, consider this paradox: I watch a lot of cable news – and I hate cable news. When it comes to this one, I’m not alone. Public distrust of the news media is at an all-time high; and yet, public viewing of the news media is breaking records too.
Do We Want to Be Offended?
Why do many of us watch, follow, seek out, or otherwise pursue things that offend us? I have a theory. Sometimes being offended feels kind of good.
Maybe getting offended isn’t all that different from the adrenaline rush a scary movie produces. Finding something offensive can also be a nice boost to the ego. At least I’m not as ignorant as they are. And, when something is offensive, it’s always fun to find someone else who is offended by the same thing and commiserate about it. Can you believe they said that? Who on earth do they think they are? This is the stuff of partisan news shows, sports radio, office break rooms, churches (unfortunately), kid’s playgrounds, and (not shockingly) social media.
On the surface, we’re frustrated by something we’ve heard, seen, or read; but, deep down, it can sometimes be fun. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is look at who is getting paid the big bucks. Media corporations are laying off beat reporters while paying millions to pundits, shock jocks, and “personalities.”
No wonder it feels like we live in a culture on edge and where everyone seems to have a short fuse. There are lots of opinions to be read, lots of outrage to feel, and some deep part of us that kind of likes it. It’s almost like we’re hoping to be offended.
Changing Our Mindset
Hoping to be offended is indeed a paradox. This mindset is not hopeful at all. And, it is incredibly problematic and dangerous. It makes us cynical. It leads to an “us versus them” mentality, where we group off based on what offends us instead of venturing out to work through problems, disagreements, and misunderstandings in a meaningful way. Cynicism and drawing battle lines might produce great ratings and large groups of followers, but it hardly ever produces change.
Now, to be clear, there are things that should offend us and are offensive. I’m not saying we should never be offended. Racism, sexism, abuse, abuse of power, injustice, and greed should frustrate us. Encountering these offensive people, ideas, and situations aren’t fun – it should break our hearts. Living in a broken world means we will encounter things that offend us.
However, there is a difference between encountering offensive ideas and hoping to be offended. Hoping to be offended means we’re looking for an excuse to strike out at someone; it means we can’t wait to have the chance to put someone in their place; it means instead of seeking out more understanding or information, we’re rushing into attack mode.
Common grounders have a different posture. When they encounter something potentially offensive, they aren’t waiting for an opportunity to strike. An offensive idea, instead of being an adrenaline-rush, is heartbreaking. And, when something is said that initially offends a common grounder, they don’t run to the corners and start lobbing Tweets of their own. Instead, they believe the best about people and resolve to resolve stubborn problems with integrity.
Imagine what would happen if the world was full of people with those qualities. It starts with us. It isn’t easy. You probably won’t make it on cable news. But it’s worth it.