Offend and Be Offended
I’m a pretty normal person in this regard; I like it when people like me, I don’t like it when people don’t like me.
This pretty normal fact about me however runs directly counter to a commitment that I have made to attempt to tell the truth as I see it. This commitment is particular to those general societal or cultural trends that run directly counter to principles of love, mercy and justice.
My commitment to telling the truth as I see it does not, for example, mean that I tell you if I think you look fat or if I don’t like your hair… that’s not a commitment to truth, that’s just being a jerk.
My commitment to telling the truth as I see it, does however sometimes offend those who hear or read it. If I talk about how Nestle and Kraft have horrible business practices when it comes to their impact on people around the world I might, for instance, offend someone who works, or has a brother who works, or knows someone who works for one of those companies.
Recently I wrote a blog about Occupy Toronto and I chose a quote from it to put on facebook, "Every cell phone we buy makes us complicit in war, murder, rape, exploitation and oppression." I have a friend, a wise friend who I respect a lot, who challenged me that I was using “guilt and fear” tactics. Later he also challenged me that I was being inflammatory and simplistic. While I disagree with his first challenge the second I agree with entirely. Perhaps, though, the problem is, that I have no problem with being inflammatory and simplistic.
Sometimes we need to offend and often we need to be offended.
One who never takes offense to anything is never moved by anything. I am offended, for example, when I hear stories of slavery in the world today. I am offended when I read about business practices that are creating dehabiliating poverty! I am offended when I hear about the conditions in the Congo (to which I was referring) and how our cell phones use the Coltan that is procured at such a low cost because of internal conflict including the systemic rape of the women of that country that our companies might be fueling. This is what offends me. What that offense has resulted in is that I find it very easy to ‘offend’ the average North American consumer to let them know that they are participating in a system of oppression through the choices of what we buy. In fact, I find that offense very easy, kind even, in comparison to the offensive nature of the realities happening around the world.
What I have also found to be true with offense is this. I will be unable to offend most of you enough to get you to change anything. I have found that the general default of Canadians and Americans is the justification of our current standard of living. Meaning that no matter what I hear about what I am causing globally, I will, in short order, default back to my old habits, patterns and lifestyle. I am usually only one good justification away from going back to normal.
I have shocked groups of youth with data about the cocoa industry and child slavery. I have also seen, moments later, the same teens enjoying a brownie made from the same cocoa we were discussing. I have heard so many lame excuses that keep people enjoying their slavery-coated treats.
“They are already made, it would be a waste to not enjoy them.” We choose to be more offended by wasting a unnecessary dessert than we are by CHILD SLAVERY!
“It would be rude to refuse what my host worked so hard to bake for me.” We choose to be more offended by a breach of etiquette than we are by CHILD SLAVERY!
We don’t need much, any excuse we can find really, to go on pretending that everything is fine. At the end of the day, we want to be able to say, “I am a good person.” Anything that runs counter to that fact we have to find a way to ignore or justify, anything that prevents us from having to change it.
I will often have people begin to attack me personally. “Well what about your shoes? Your shirt? Do you only eat FairTrade sugar?” It’s as if any failure on my part becomes the justification for them to do whatever they want. But I am not the standard. Slowly but surely I make more and more choices that fall in line with certain principles of justice and equality. If you want to make me your excuse for doing nothing, I sure you’ll find a way to do it. And if you don’t, you’ll find some other excuse. There will always be an excuse, a justification, a reason.
I’ve heard the same thing with violence. “THEY DESERVED IT!” Again, if you are trying to look for an excuse to use violence, you will find it. It doesn’t take much for us to find the support we are looking for. One of the keys is to take the excuses off the table. Violence is wrong; that is the starting place. It is simplistic, but it is true.
We need simple truths to highlight the reality of how twisted things are. Sometimes we make things more complicated than they are because in that complexity we find all the excuses we need to change nothing.
“With each bite of non-FairTrade chocolate you take you are contributing to child slavery and human trafficking.” If you find this statement offensive, inflammatory, simplistic or if it feels like a guilt or fear tactic, that has more to do with you than the statement itself. You don’t like the way it makes you feel. You wish it were nicer. You wish it was more encouraging. However, with each attempt to make that statement more palatable it loses its edge, its depth, its passion and its truth. Hopefully it has the power to offend you enough that you have to stop and think about it. If a truth that is a truth about justice and change and love and that truth offends; have the courage to offend and be offended.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a soldier in the German resistance against Adolf Hitler. Eventually he was arrested and his connection to a failed assassination attempt on Hitler was discovered. He was executed in 1945.Dietrich wrote many books and my favourite quote of his is appropriate here. It is from a sermon and was used specifically about people in the Christian church but I will adapt it here because I believe it is for all of us;
[A community] stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. [We] are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. [Society] adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. [We] should give more offense, shock the world far more, than [we] are doing now. [We] should take a stronger stand in favour of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer [parenthesis mine]
"We should give more offense, shock the world far more than we are doing now!"
I might from time to time be accused of being inflammatory and simplistic. That is okay with me. In fact I would be much more worried were I to be accused of being too mild and complicated.
Here is a definition of inflammatory; arousing to action or rebellion.
Many would be apologetic were they to realize that they had in fact been simplistic and inflammatory. I, for one, am glad that I have been doing what I have set out to do. Tell the truth as I see it with bold and clear truth in a way that might arouse action and rebellion!
Allow yourself to be offended about the things that really matter! Allow that offense to get a hold of your guts and make you uncomfortable! Allow the simplicity of how the greed and wealth that we daily enjoy has caused the most heinous of circumstances all around the world shock and offend you. Allow that offense to spark a fire in you; to inflame you. Allow it to arouse action! Allow it to arouse rebellion against injustice!
I really don’t have the power to offend you. Only you can choose to be offended; and I hope you do!