You’ve surely heard them either on TV or online; “the snowflake generation,” “People are too sensitive,” “Everyone is offended by everything,” and the notorious “ok boomer.” The problem with all these statements is that they all generalize entire generations based on their level of offense. Of course, anyone with a pulse can be offended, if they choose to be, regardless of age. However, I believe that there are higher trends of offense because of Twitter.
I point to Twitter and Facebook for the hotspots of offense to be taken, because social media polices behavior, by approving and punishing people, behaviors, and posts. Back in the 1950s, people of course were offended by things too, but they had no outlet for it other than those in their immediate vicinity. Now, you can send your opinions to outer space and back, and to millions of people if you want.
According to Merriam-Webster, to offend is “to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done.” When we are offended, we believe that one of our moral codes has been violated, prompting us to speak out. For example, if someone makes a joke about a topic that is personal to you, you may choose to take it as a personal attack and make it a subjective emotional experience, rather than the objective joke it is.
The issue is when people take offense at things that have nothing to do with them, yelling “I am offended because I can be!” A perfect example of this is on YouTube when a commenter says “That joke about drugs was not funny!” and right under that comment someone says, “As a former (insert drug) user, I found this skit to be hilarious.” Does having a personal connection to something give you greater authority over a joke than an outsider? It depends based on who you ask.
That is not to say that some statements and jokes are not just plain offensive; most people, I believe, can agree that any type of slur (racial, sexual, etc.) should be treated as offensive and outdated. However, that raises the question: How far is too far?
Comedy has been known for pushing the lines, and rightfully so, to start conversations. Famous comedian George Carlin said that “It’s a comedian’s duty to find the line and deliberately cross over it.”
Even Steve Carrell, famous for playing Michael Scott in the TV series “The Office,” when asked about a reboot or reunion said that “it might be impossible to do that show today and have people accept it the way it was accepted 10 years ago.” His character, Michael Scott is an offensive and rude, but funny, character. His character is not meant to represent a model boss, but if people take it seriously, they would miss the point and the humor of his outrageous behavior.
Being offended by something immediately shuts down any conversation that could be had about why someone thinks that way and said that. Irshad Manji, author of “Don’t Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times,” gave an excellent speech about how we need to teach kids how to “embrace people as complex individuals, and not mascots of this or that tribe.” She argues that by engaging those with who we disagree with, we can learn from them. But, when we take offense, “we’re in reactive mode” and miss opportunities to gain knowledge or insight from another person’s point of view.
As alluded to before, there are of course just ignorant individuals who will spew hatred, because that’s what they were taught growing up. However, you can also learn from these ignorant individuals, or, at the very least, learn how not to be.
My problem with ‘ok boomer,’ while comical, is that it is a generalizing statement. Generalizations and stereotypes are generally wrong, and a lazy attempt to label large groups of individuals, rather than spending the time to get to know the individuals of that group. It seems as though many (not all) young individuals, specifically millennials, are upset at being labeled as entitled and lazy by boomers. Ironically, though, the generation that is supposedly most tolerant of other individuals, is attacking another generation for their beliefs. Albeit, that doesn’t automatically mean boomers have said and done everything perfectly, nor millennials; both are far from perfection.
I challenge you next time you see or hear something offensive not to immediately dismiss that person, but ask them why they think that. Similar to emotions, sometimes you just can’t help being offended. If someone makes a comment or joke about a topic that is personal, you can’t help being upset at another person’s perceived ignorance. But if you take a step back, and realize you are not the spokesperson for whatever topic that was just discussed, you can have a conversation rather than an argument over Twitter about why you feel you’re right.