I very often find myself in arguments, or at least those conversations where I think we're debating, and they say it's an argument cos what I happen to utter they say is 'offensive'. Which is something that kills debate and critical thinking, that awful word 'offensive'. Stephen Fry puts its great where he says
"it's very common to hear people say, I'm rather offended by that, as if that gives them certain rights. It's no more than a whine, It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase".
I could not agree more. I find it is used as a sword of defeat, or blocking a relevant counter-argument simply because they can not handle being wrong. And no, I do not take the stance that I am right and that is the most important thing to be, which I will go in detail about later.
It annoys me too, as Mr. Fry implies, that it is a mark of respect to stop saying the truth, because they happen to not like what you have to say. If you spend your life asking for people's opinion and expecting it to always be in your favour, you're deluded, you're disrespectful and you want every person around you to lie.
The art of debating is how you get to the point of where you know how you really think and feel about something; that's why we are taught, that's why we can be influenced. If we just focused on the primitive urges we feel from birth and do not think, converse and analyse, we are not using what makes human beings unique. We would then be no different from primitive species that aren't aware of their own existence, aren't aware of the amount of choices and decisions a person can make. It's what makes the human race so different.
We are naturally curious and the most disappointing person I meet in life is a person who lacks curiosity. It's painfully lacking in a lot of people. It leads to so many good qualities, learning, understanding, consideration, care, awareness....at the very least the opportunity to be any of these things.
This makes me think of the wider point, of respect. As much as I disagree with Penn Jilette on some things he says, I totally agree with the notion that 'respect is more important than love' because if you don't respect a person to begin with, real love cannot be achieved without it. It's like dating someone, you always want to find the person who likes the same things you do, acts similar, feels similar, which to me seems entirely problematic and silly.
The point is, it is more advantageous and healthy to be around someone and people who respect you as an individual, respect you as a person, respects what you do for a living etc. moreso than they have to love everything you say or do. They do not have to like, love or agree with anything you do, they just have to respect your views on it. That's really the secret to any strong relationship. That is why, the obvious non-debating issues, rape, torture, abuse, murder etc ,we all agree that anyone that disagrees that theses are bad and non-negotiable are really not worth knowing and have no place in society. Yet, we do not need to be that obvious to say that in an argument, otherwise if you feel the need to think that, why be friends with them? You clearly do not have respect for them if that's how you feel. Yet, I cannot tell you how many times In arguments where I have said something fairly mild and gotten the response 'so are you saying abuse is ok?' or something as mind-numbingly obvious that I can not possible mean that.
Again, this is an attitude. This is a weapon to stop critical thinking, and it is a fear that what they think is being proven wrong. The other sword of attack I get in this now debating world that I mentioned earlier, is that I refuse to be wrong or admit I am wrong or aware I could be wrong. These people that accuse me of that, are the same people that say, they do not need to go to therapy, because I am ok, or someone that goes to one session and says 'We'll I went and they agreed with me on everything, so I stopped going'. What they fail to understand is, I do not go into debates to be proven right, I go into debates to find out where I am wrong!
It's the same with going to therapy. It is not remotely useful in the long term to focus on what you do right, but rather, a good therapist will force you to focus on things that hurt, things that are difficult to deal with, because you are dealing with something the wrong way and affecting you in a negative way. Does that make me a lesser person for admitting that? Absolutely not, it shows that I'm trying to be a better individual, which is the only goal you can have. In order to enhance your life and your way of thinking, the best way is to not take anything personal when someone disagrees with you, but to look at things in an objective way.
Now, I am not saying this is remotely easy. The biggest sacrifice is that doubt will be your constant companion, and I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen, stumbled over trying to do the right thing, and tried to get better at who I am. But, I can categorically say, without fear of over confidence, that it is worth it because, I am a better friend, a better dealer of my bipolar disorder, a better overall person for making all these mistakes. I like James Randi's approach to this...
'I want to be, if I can, as sure of the world--the real world--around me as is possible. Now, you can only attain that to a certain degree, but I want the greatest degree of control. I've never involved myself in narcotics of any kind, I don't smoke, and I don't drink because that can easily just fuzz the edges of my rationality--fuzz the edges of my reasoning powers--and I want to be as aware as I possibly can. That means giving up a lot of fantasies that might be comforting in some ways, but I'm willing to give that up in order to live in an actually real world, or as close as I can get to it'.
Now I don't have clearly as good a discipline as he does to do that fully (I would smoke 50 cigarettes a day, if it did not kill me), but I agree with his overall premise. It's the crux of my argument in this blog post in that I don't care if it's offensive. I don't care if it's controversial, all I care about is it real? is it true??
He goes on to say, that you have to give up on the luxury of believing in things that aren't true, but make life easier to bare or comforting as he says. Such as religion, such as believing that you do not need to work on who you are, essentially being happy having an ignorant unrealistic mind. That can be immensely difficult and requires in some cases a great deal of courage. I was brought up to believe in God but it never made any sense to me. It felt threatening to have to say this does nothing for me and, as I have mentioned in a blog post before, I really understand the fear of dying and how terrifying it is that religion might stop that morbid feeling in believing it does not end. Yet, it doesn't mean that leads me to believe something that my intelligence is telling me there is no evidence it is even remotely true.
My final thought on this, is to talk about tolerance. I have been told this approach to life comes across as lacking tolerance towards people who have opposing views. Essentially, I am accusing people of doing exactly what I am doing because they disagree with me. I try to explain as distinct as I can that they are missing the point.
If you look at the people around me I confide in, they are all of different personalties, religions, cultures, so under any criteria you want I am very tolerant of all opinions. The point I am making, we live unfortunately in a very intolerable world. The overall important factor, as I said earlier, is that they respect you as a person that they value your opinion and your ALLOWED to disagree. I encourage everyone around me to disagree with me, if that's what they think. Again, that is far more valuable that just being told they agree with you on everything.
The only criteria for me is as non-discriminatory as it gets. Are you open minded, kind and caring and have genuine compassion? If so, I would let you into my circle no problem at all. The difference I think between me and the average person on that, is within that I have a very high standard to what that is which is why, I do not have social friends, and take friendship very seriously. It is easy for anyone to say they are kind, caring, compassionate, actually doing any of those things when needed when it is inconvenient is what separates genuine people from pretenders.
It's like sense of humour, who thinks they do not have a sense of humour? And yet, obviously some people don't. I am not fighting to make everyone adhere to my way of thinking, I am fighting that we maintain that we all are allowed to have a different way of thinking. I always make sure I do not tell people what to do, as that to me leads you to cross that line of wanting them to convert to your way of thinking, and I do not want to do that.
I actually said in a recent podcast with Ryon Day, it is incredibly useful to have people around you that think differently. It gives you the ability to think a different way and learn how someone else can look at whatever situation you find yourself in. I cannot tell you how many times that has happened, where I have felt so foolish for not seeing it the way they have as it is a far better angle that the way I see it. That's the risk. To be wrong. To fall on your face more times to find out the truth of whatever it may be.
I often say to people, my oldest friends in the world, where we have argued probably 10,000 times, yes we have had fights, yes we have hurt each other accidentally on occasion, but would I die for them and are they my brothers?? Yes, and I would never tell them to hide the truth from me. It's healthy and normal to disagree with people close to you, if you aren't then I would question how close you really are to someone and how meaningful it really is.
So whenever you say something that you genuinely feel, that is the truth, that is simply a different opposing view to someone, and then say 'I find that really offensive', do not say your sorry, do not apologise for it, and ask yourself 'why should I care?' because if it's true, that's all that matters.
What do you think about Steven's thoughts? How do you feel about being offended? Does it play any role in your own friendships? Let us know in the comments below.
You can keep up-to-date with Steven on Twitter, where he's @Geek_Apocalypse. Steven also hosts his own podcast which often talks about mental health, amongst many other things, called Geek Apocalypse. You can find out more at his website www.geekapocalypse.com