After an Offense, What Is the Path for Self-Forgiveness?
The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people.
— George Bernard Shaw
Don’t be so serious! I’m only joking.
We all know someone who thrives on being provocative, walking the line between stimulating creativity and constructively challenging convention, who sometimes goes too far. We all know someone who takes pride in being offensive, passes it off as joking, trotting out the old saw of telling others they are too easily put-off. As if their way of relating to others were a public service, an exercise of socially-responsible free speech designed and delivered to serve as a beacon of the shining light of the truth. Honesty, they say, is the best policy, but being a callous bull in an emotional china shop ignores the need for tact and sensitivity.
At the same time, political correctness is suffocating, coercing us with social and cultural pressure into a form of frightened conformity. Being bludgeoned with moral condemnation and smug superiority is tiresome at best, and the common underlying hypocrisy is hard to stomach. For those who succumb, fears of crossing the line stifle healthy variability, creating a fragile bubble of safety which arguably leaves people too tender and reactive to handle much of what reality dishes out.
No easy answers.
These situations are truly confusing and often unresolved, appearing to have no clear or good solutions — do we walk around on eggshells all the time, making sure we never say or do anything which might upset anyone, do we shoot from the hip and let the cards fall where they will, do we spend all our waking hours imagining every possible scenario which might come up and think about the most optimal way to respond, do we practice diplomacy until we are able intuitively able to generate the right response for the situation, or what? These questions are ever more important, as our society clashes on multiple levels around offense and moral and physical injury, speech and silence, and more pressing questions of rights and safety than ever before.
For many of us, transgressing is undesirable yet unavoidable. Inevitably, we will hurt someone whether we want to or not, and when that happens, not only do we have to deal with the…