No Right to be Offended

Up until this point I have tried to obey a series of self-imposed rules when writing this column. One was that I would not criticize or (overly) praise a fellow op-ed columnist.

Each of us holds vastly different opinions. The fact the editorial board affords each of us that freedom, absent of columnists attacking each other, brings balance to the conversation. As contributors, if we disagree with the statements of another contributor, we should write a column offering our own insights. However, I am about to break this rule as it pertains to Alicia Preston and Robert Azzi.

Recently, Alicia Preston wrote an article concerning an event at Dover High School, now dubbed as the “KKK Song” incident (www.seacoastonline.com/news/20181216/kkk-jingle-unfair-shaming-of-teacher-students). Azzi responded to Preston’s column with a letter to the editor, proclaiming it “is too offensive to ignore (www.seacoastonline.com/news/20181218/column-on-kkk-jingle-too-offensive-to-ignore).”

We are op-ed writers. Our very existence offends someone every time our column appears in this paper, and whether it was our intent or not, there are always thinned-skin individuals who read way too much into our column or invent a subtext that does not exist. As much I believe Azzi should know that by now, more concerning is that he not only unfairly attacked a fellow contributor, but he completely mischaracterized a decent individual (Preston).

One of the most overly used words in our society today is the word “offend (offended, offensive, etc.).” It does not matter in which form it is used, it is only important that we acknowledge use of this word has become one of the standard fall backs by some in our society to weaponize differing opinions. Being “offended” becomes the shield to push away opposing views, and the sword to attack those we disagree with. People become victims and their intention is to hide behind being “offended” to seize the moral high ground of their own making. Combine any variation of the word “offend” with another overly used word, “privilege,” and you have two key ingredients for an Orwellian defense for “justifiable censorship.”

Azzi’s attack on Preston was unjustified and way out of line. To describe Preston using words such as “pernicious (wicked, evil, malicious)” while hiding behind the shield of “but I was offended, so all is fair” is grossly inappropriate, and so detached from who Preston truly is as a person. Those who know Preston recognize her to be a fair and concerned person with incredible integrity. Azzi clearly does not know Preston, or he would not have been so callous with his tone.

Maybe that is the problem. Some of you might find it surprising, but none of the columnists in the op-ed section really know each other, except for our weekly dose of wisdom. We have never had coffee together and most of us have never met. However, I do know Alicia Preston. There is not one “pernicious” or “privileged” bone in her body. And as far as the ridiculous misuse of the word “privileged” that Azzi tried to falsely attach to Preston, it is clear his emotions got the better part of his intellect. Some might suggest Azzi felt entitled to attack an accomplished, successful woman such as Preston because he himself is the benefactor of perceived privilege as a male in a male-dominated world. Of course, that is not true, but these are the new rules for a world easily offended by a countering view.

I have stopped using the word “offended,” because it has lost any real value, and it isn’t just because the word is subjective. When a person invokes certain words, such as “offended, (white) privilege, racist, safe (spaces),” and a whole host of other words, they are for the most part drawing an arbitrary line in the sand. Should you cross that line and dare to challenge their perception, they will use the disagreement as proof you are “offensive, racist, or privileged.” Once “offended,” temperance is replaced by emotion, and at that point all is fair in the name of love, war and social justice.

Worse still is that once the offended person has checked off items from their list of intolerable transgressions, they feel emboldened. Not only do they disagree with you, they now believe they have carte blanche to attack you, marginalize you and “put you in your place.” This often is achieved by misrepresenting what you said, reading some imaginary subtext, placing unrelated events (in which neither the offended nor the offender were involved), and then placing the entire weight of all injustice in your lap.

That is what Azzi tried to do to Preston, justifying his actions by hiding behind the emotion of being “offended.” Guided more by the oxymoron of logical fallacies to advance his belief he was offended, Azzi made the mistake far too many people make – he overplayed his hand and villainized a decent person in an effort to dismiss her equal place in what is supposed to be an open forum, representing many different points of view.

I know some of you find our columns “offensive,” whether it is mine, Preston’s, Azzi’s, Kerr’s or the SMG editorial board column. I know this because you have told us so by email or letters to the editors. Yet, our columns remain, available for you to read or ignore. My advice to Azzi and others is to get over your exaggerated sensitivity and remove the word “offend” from your vocabulary. Short of that, maybe you should avoid the public arena because you may not have the constitution to handle the debate.

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