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It seems that in this ridiculously (and dangerously) politically correct age, you can’t even say something seemingly innocuous without someone taking offence. I don’t think it’s right to set out to purposely offend someone else in order to hurt them but neither do I think it’s right to hold back from airing your beliefs in a respectful way for fear it might offend someone.
Sometimes ‘apparent’ offence is actually a good thing as it can make people think…why am I offended by this…am I over (or under) sensitive…if so why…if I’m offended does that really mean the other person should keep quiet…maybe if they said the same but toned it down I’d be more receptive…maybe the harsh tone is what’s needed to make the point…I think they’re wrong (maybe they are)…could I be wrong about something…am I willing to re-evaluate even though it means I’ll look stupid and feel humiliated…even if I know I’ll likely be lambasted by some of my own peer group…my own family…in a multi-cultural society should people even be expected to keep quiet…if one or more sections of society feels under pressure to suppress their views won’t that just lead to inner pressure building up which will at some point explode because it’s always needed an outlet which it’s been denied? Yes I know that was a mega long sentence, I hope it doesn’t cause offence to the grammar police.
As any counsellor worth their salt, notepad or caffeine hit will tell you, it’s crucial people be allowed to talk, to air their views, even if we find those views distasteful, and air their views knowing they aren’t going to be demonised or hounded or ostracised.
(I will admit, on occasion I’ve pulled back from saying something simply because I’ve known there are people who will react very angrily and aggressively to me. Sometimes frankly it isn’t worth the hassle, if a person’s response is continually aggressive and rude and all you feel is stress and anxiety then I’d say withdraw and if you pray then pray for them, you don’t need anyone’s permission to do that. There are plenty of people who will listen and even if they disagree will do so without you feeling the need to reach for the paracetamol or ibuprofen, depending on the ascending scale of the aggression. Sometimes it’s best to withdraw in order to rest your frazzled head and replenish your own soul Psalm 23 style, or body if you don’t believe in the soul. Admittedly there are times it may be necessary to listen even if a person is being aggressive as it’s necessary to draw out the venom before any progression can be made…but that doesn’t mean you have to be the person doing the listening…perhaps there is someone else with more experience who can do that, someone more equipped to draw that venom without it corrupting their own soul. Maybe your job lies elsewhere.)
Yet to understand you have to listen, to listen you have to be patient, to be patient you have to realise that what you are listening to is another person’s story and their story has shaped them and made them what they are now. Somewhere they have taken a wrong turning and there were reasons for that, maybe they didn’t even know it was a wrong turning, maybe they thought it was something good that turned out to be something bad, maybe through someone’s bad intentions or maybe no-one had bad intentions but things just took a wrong turn anyway.
That story, their story, may only be understood by letting them talk till they’re done and in so doing they (and you) may see things they (and you) didn’t see before and understand things (both good and bad) they (and you) didn’t see before. It’s only by listening, by letting someone talk and by allowing them room to reflect that they may finally see a footnote, a scribbled thought in a margin that they’ve never seen before in the writing and living of their own story, that explains so much.
Maybe, if they look closely enough, if the story is put under a different kind of light, ultraviolet or infra-red or night vision or whatever, they might discover an impression on a page with no writing. Maybe there were once words written there in their story but they were rubbed out, erased, yet the subtle impression on the page remains and if you let the right light in, if you gently trace a pencil’s edge over the erased impression then long forgotten (purposely or not) words will re-appear. Maybe it’s their time to reappear, maybe it’s the footnote, the long forgotten scribble in the margin, the revelation that’s the key to everything.
Listening, allowing others to speak, to speak without fear of judgement, to listen without taking offence, or at least without voicing your offence at this particular time and place, is where progress happens, where previously unairable questions can be asked, where anger (justified or not) can be aired without anger in response, where space can be opened up for healing to begin. It’s rarely a faultless process without its own pitfalls and pit rescues but in the effort both parties can change for the better and though there will still doubtless be big differences, a new and mutual understanding can, and frankly must, undermine our prejudices (we all have them), and enable us to live together without always agreeing with each other.
In the meantime, try as we might to be respectful and not offend unnecessarily, we will offend people, sometimes by saying things we believe to be completely inoffensive! If you take offence at what someone else says, why not try (for awhile at least) to listen, instead of immediately shouting them down. Sometimes we can actually ‘take offence’ as an excuse not to engage in actual discussion, to defend our position and attack another, scared of the prospect that we might actually find common ground, room for movement, between previously sworn enemies.
It may be that they (and ourselves) aren’t open to actual dialogue but it may also be that, given the chance, behind all the bluster is a life story which contains alot of hurt and frustration and fear and misunderstanding. By airing that story without the fear of being shouted down, something truly beautiful can begin to be formed.
“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” Matthew 11:15