Taking offence

I’ve heard of teachers taking offence at Jamie Oliver’s new TV show, about the British Humanist Association’s Census Campaign, and about a variety of political points.

Surely there is a line to be drawn between giving offence and taking offence? If I criticise your beliefs and practices and say that I think there is a better way to do things, that you may be misguided, and that I offer an alternative, then I have not given offence. I am engaging with you, and debating with  you. You may choose to take offence, but surely only because you are not confident enough in your beliefs to listen to debate.

However, if I generalise and abuse and say that all people of one faith are unpleasant, that all people of one sexuality are uncaring and unfit to be parents, or that a politician is evil and deliberately doing wrong, then I would argue that I am giving offence. I am setting out to be offensive to a group of people in order to appeal to others.

I welcome different viewpoints. It may be uncomfortable for me to hear them, but I should not choose to take offence if they are given in a spirit of cooperation in order to engage me in debate. If the points are made in order to belittle me, if they make assumptions about me based on generalisations about a group I belong to, or if they set out to demean me in order to make others feel better about themselves, then I would still try and either engage or turn away rather than ‘take offence’ and hide behind that, even if offence is being given.

‘Taking offence’ is a state of mind. It is something people seem to do in order to defensively draw themselves together, instead of challenging and reflecting on their beliefs. Politicians do it, unions do it, you and I both know people that make a habit from it. I suspect it relates to ego and insecurity. I can’t imagine the Dalai Lama takes offence very often.


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