On the art of getting offended

Posted 8/23/19

The cancellation request arrived in the mail without much fanfare or much written explanation — just a simple message which read: “Please cancel our subscription immediately! Send any …

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On the art of getting offended

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The cancellation request arrived in the mail without much fanfare or much written explanation — just a simple message which read: “Please cancel our subscription immediately! Send any refund...”

No further explanation was necessary because the reader’s reasoning accompanied the note: a clipped-out editorial cartoon we’d published that week which depicted a trolling shark facing an under-water warning sign which read; “Go near shore at own risk. Angry white males with easy access to guns.”

The cartoon, by syndicated cartoonist Joe Heller, was drawn in reaction to recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Like all good editorial cartoons — whether you agreed with its premise or not — it used humor and irony to adroitly make a point or perhaps compel conversation.

Draw your own conclusion about the punishment (us losing a valued subscriber) fitting the crime (a cartoon which rankled a reader’s sensibilities), but when I read the note, and saw the enclosed cartoon, I smirked silently to myself about the writer and the ease at which he was offended. It’s just an editorial cartoon, one man’s opinion, published in the specific part of the newspaper where viewpoints and opinions are welcome and designed to stimulate dialogue.

Why so easily offended, I wondered?

But then I remembered having my own sensibilities rankled just a week or so before, and had a moment of clarity. I’d taken my car to a local dealership for an oil change late one afternoon and sat down at a table in the waiting room to do some work. Three other men were there, also waiting: two, like me, were quietly engaged in some task or reading, but the third — a man in his 30s dressed in shorts and a pressed, untucked button-down shirt with a “Make America Great Again” hat perched atop his moppish dirty-blonde hair — dominated the space, talking loudly on his cell phone.

I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. The man was barking out orders to what I suppose was a subordinate, enthusiastically instructing him about what to say on specific Twitter posts and which videos to post on other platforms.

If he was trying to sound like a political consultant, he succeeded.

It wasn’t necessarily the “MAGA” hat — 25 bucks at donaldjtrump.com for red, but $30 if you want it in pink, ladies — that was like a smack in the face to me, though. Trump is my president, too, but his Twitterstorm of insults and his attacks on the press — calling us “the enemy of the people” and, this week, even going after his beloved Fox News — combined with the guy in the waiting room’s loud and pointed arrogance, really…well, offended me. I was a bit shocked at what stirred inside me — probably not too dissimilar to the reader who just canceled his subscription.

I was curious who the dude was. It didn’t take long to find out. A customer service rep soon bounded through the door with some bad news: Hatman’s radiator was busted and he needed a new one.

A hushed conversation followed, one I couldn’t hear. The service rep left, and soon our guy was on his phone again — this time using a much lower tone, calling around the state trying to find a cheaper radiator than the dealership was offering.

His arrogance having abated at this turn of misfortune, the preppy political operative seemed cut down to size. I silently — and I’m embarrassed to admit this, because it was petty on my part — cheered his misfortune.

On one of his calls he was asked for his name, and he obliged. Naturally, upon hearing it, I Googled him on the spot. Turns out he had at one time worked in North Carolina as an adviser to some high-profile candidates, but his Tweets — good ol’ Twitter — got him in hot water, and ultimately got him fired, according to a story on CNN.com.

Both of these experiences — the cancellation note from a subscriber, my encounter with a loudmouth in a car dealership — reminded me that we each have a propensity to take things too personally. We focus on us, not others. That habit is strongly reinforced on social media, and few of us are immune. We’re programmed to be critical and have an inherent need to be “right,” and thus make others wrong.

We’re selfish, and culturally becoming more selfish, I think, as time goes on.

The worst thing about all this, in my observation, is that it creates blindspots in our lives, areas of lack of awareness and too many instances where it’s “all about me,” even though we’d deny it if brought to our attention.

Fact is, we’ve learned to yell, but we don’t take time to listen.

And that’s a shame.

We can’t understand until we listen.


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