Art of giving offense

To the Journal editor:

I’d like to thank Northern Michigan University and the CAIF for sponsoring Greg Lukianoff’s April 22 lecture on free speech. We are fortunate NMU can bring these cultural events to our remote Upper Peninsula outpost.

I didn’t get the opportunity to ask a question during the event, so I’d like to pose it now if I may. Does the individual bear any responsibility to not be offended by the words of another? One theme of the lecture was that some in society believe speech can cause harm. It’s impossible to offend me personally. I do not give other people that power over me, but seemingly some do.

NMU President Erickson suggested civility in our public discourse is one solution. Certainly true, but one need only watch “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” or “Narcos” to see incivility exists and is endemic to the human condition. So how does a civilized society exist in a world of incivility?

The Constitution is designed to protect us from the government and the justice system, imperfect as it is, is designed to protect us from each other.

Yet people continually aggrieve one another. Suppose I encounter someone whose BMI classifies him as obese? What if I say, “You’re really fat”? That would certainly be an uncivil comment, but would it be hate speech? It’s a medically accurate statement. The person may be offended or emotionally hurt, but should I be arrested for my incivility? What is the aggrieved individual’s recourse? Does the individual offended have any obligation to disregard my comment and consider me an unlikable person to be avoided? Or should his course of action include petitioning the government to have me punished?

Some may be offended by my use of a gender specific pronoun. In some jurisdictions, addressing someone with a gender specific pronoun not of their preference can cause you legal trouble.

We exist because our ancestors were aggressive opportunists able to navigate a hostile world filled with aggression. Macroaggressions as well as microaggressions.

Just over one hundred years ago the world was ravaged by the Spanish flu pandemic. One third of the planet’s population was infected and it’s estimated 20 to 50 million people died. It’s easy to imagine Mother Nature will once again punch humanity in the face with a similar catastrophe.

How will a mind, harmed by mere words, cope with such a tragic reality? My guess is some unfortunate generation will find out.




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