Who offends who?

The question of the offences, of what is an offence and what is not, of when someone should be offended and when someone shouldn’t, looks to me, as many other questions, quite complex and with different levels of abstraction and interpretation.

And, as often happens, an interpretation and an answer that is correct at one level is overturned at another level.

Also, it very much depends on the environment, the situation, the amount and type of people involved…

To make it short (or at least shorter… 🙂 ), I would like to define two main levels of discussion: one that I would call a “human” level and another that could be briefly defined as spiritual or superior.
In this, I want to comment at the “human” level, purposely ignoring (at least for now) the spiritual level, the “new reality” and so on. And in particular I will take as a reference the offences in forums and involving persons with a fairly high level of education (which are those usually contributing and participating to forums, especially to the spiritual ones 🙂 ). For other environments and situations, in my opinion many things are similar, probably it’s mostly a question of shifting weights and accents here and there…

What in essence an offence is?

An offence is a kind of definition of reality. It’s usually a very synthetic one 🙂 , and a metaphorical one too, but behind it there is a “view” of what reality is according to the offender. It’s true that the offence is an emotional response, but it’s also undeniable that it is triggered by one or more rational (conscious or not) reasons and reasoning.

The offender provides his own vision of reality (usually concerning a very circumscribed piece of reality), a reality that may refer to the personal characteristics, interests or behavior of the “offended”. In passing, even if the offence’s reference reality can be very limited and the offence very synthetic, the “view” behind it may nevertheless be quite articulated and not so banal or commonplace (or, on the other hand, a fairly elaborate and even “smart” offence can be backed by a totally absent or very trivial “view”): I mean, the same “offensive” words can have totally different meanings and “weights” and this, in my opinion, makes it impossible (if “truth and correctness” are the final goals) having a simplified approach like the one stating: no offences are permitted, all offenders will be banned, no exceptions. (There are also other reasons belonging to the realm of the superior and spiritual world that make simply banning who offends a not very advanced solution, but I think Irinushka is already discussing these issues, so for the moment I will ignore them).

The offended gets offended because he does not share that definition or “view” of reality, he doesn’t agree with the offender’s view on the question and/or on himself. And it is this disagreement that causes both the offence and the fact of getting offended.

What is a big advantage of the offences, from both the offender’s and the offended’s point of view (apart the question of being synthetic, i.e. quick)? That they are a great simplification and simplifying (unifying, standardizing) things is one of the most appreciated activities by human beings.

The offence tends to simplify things very much: the offender doesn’t need to justify himself or to provide a complex description of his reasons (a description that perhaps he isn’t even aware of) and on the other hand also the offended doesn’t need to justify himself or to truly examine his conscience or simply his point of view and approach, doesn’t need to accept the idea of being potentially wrong, he simply needs to take offence. And then the “discussion” becomes much simpler, it’s a fight, almost a game, the “winner” will be the stronger one, or the best offender, or the one who shouts louder or the one who is a better “actor” in taking offence…

Everything will be simpler, less tiring, quicker and even more “satisfactory”, but unfortunately the “view” or “reasons” behind the offence will totally disappear and become absolutely unimportant, nobody will have learnt anything. I’m not saying that it is always possible to transform any fight in an occasion for learning and improving and growing up, but it’s undeniable that the simplification allowed by an offence (I repeat, both for the offender and for the one who decides to feel offended) has a cost. And this cost is mostly paid by the person whose “view” is further away from “truth and correctness”, and this could be either the offender or the offended.

Therefore, in my opinion, the most important thing when considering an offence should be that of determining since the very beginning “who is right” and the “amount of his correctness”.
This leads to two consequences: on the one hand I think that the first reaction of the offended person or of the participants or witnesses in the fight should be that of enquiring about the “view” that is behind the offence and the opposite one that stays behind the offended so to better determine “who is right”.

This can be done taking into consideration the offender’s whole message or even by asking question and details, asking the offender to better specify his point of view. By the way, usually, in the case of forums and newsgroups, the offence is the final point, rather than the initial one. Usually, either the “offender” starts offending in response to something that he considers to be so much in contrast with is “view” that he cannot restrain himself or after having unsuccessfully tried to explain his point of view to someone who keeps “not understanding”.

The second consequence of the approach of researching “who is right”, is that this consideration can actually overturn roles, the so-called offender becomes the one who is actually being offended and the so-called offended becomes the offender.

Let’s imagine that someone who is perfectly detached, not involved in the fight between the “offender” and the “offended” and with a great clarity of mind and understanding is called to examine the question of the offence.

As I said before, the first issue to resolve is that of determining “who is right”. This clearly can open up a huge space for endless discussions in the “human world”, but as I said, let’s imagine an ideal situation in which the judge can see the “truth”.

This leads to two cases:

First case: the offender is “wrong”. This case is simple, the simplified view that wants offenders to be eliminated and the wider perspective view that pursues truth and correctness perfectly agree on the culprit and it’s just a question of deciding the course of actions. But also in this simple case, the decision about the offender’s destiny is not so univocal and pre-defined: for example, in every specific case it should be decided for how long keep trying to make him “understand” the correct point of view, how much effort and time spend into describing and explaining to him a different approach and view on the debated question, when deciding that he is hopeless and abandon him to his life and his own personal way of growing up and understanding things. I mean, even a fairly advanced and “educated” person may make a mistake, from now and then 🙂 : if he is immediately banned (which is in any case a violence) this will more likely push him toward a bigger degree of error than toward the truth…

Second case: the offender is actually telling the “truth”, which automatically means that at least the content (as opposite to the form) of his message cannot be considered an offence and the misbehaving is the so-called offended (who paradoxically becomes the real offender) because, unconsciously or not, he is “lying”, he is manipulating the truth, denying and/or distorting it. And this is a much heavier offence than any bad world or swearword (at least, I repeat, for someone whose main interest concerns truth and correctness).

Banning the so-called offender in this case would be an offence to truth and correctness. In this second case, on the one hand, the so-called offender should be made aware of the fact that, even if he is “right”, probably he should take into consideration that others could still be unprepared to accept his “truth” or don’t have the awareness to see his perspective even when trying at their best and this is probably not a sufficient reason for offending them. On the other hand, the so-called offended should examine messages and words, and his own conscience too, trying to understand the reasons of the so-called offender, trying to understand what pushed him to the point of offending.

The situation in this second case is the opposite of the first one: now, it is the so-called offender that should decide how much effort to put into explaining his “view” and when give up and abandon the discussion (perhaps with an offence 🙂 ).

The two examples above are clearly a simplification, the truth is seldom totally on one side only, but what is important is to be able to recognize the approach that is closer to the truth and to adjust the response to the distance from truth and correctness.

Summarizing one could say that as the distance from truth and correctness increases so should and could do the harshness of the response: but this is the distance of the “view” underlying the offence, not that of the offensive words from some kind of predefined convention on which words are acceptable and which ones are not.

In the end, I must remember that on top of all this, at a higher level of abstraction, there is the fact that every person has a personal view of things, facts and events, and also has a “specific role” with specific superior reasons for existing and all this certainly complicates the identification of what is “true and correct”.

Therefore what conclusion can a person willing to get the most from these situations draw? What should be his approach, knowing all of the above?

I think that the best approach (and perhaps the only one really existing) is that of (independently from the fact that he is the offender or the offended):

• First matching his own “truth” against that of the other, opening to the other’s “truth” enough to truly (without lying to himself) see which one is “truer”: intermediate positions are evidently possible, one could find out that almost everything is “wrong” but something, even if completely different from his own “truth” and totally new, is actually potentially true and could be used to evolve (and this fact by itself should modify the feelings toward the opposite party from fully negative to at least partially positive and therefore reduce the probability of an offensive response).

• Then, provided he still truly considers his own truth “truer” than the other one, gauging the distance between the two, evaluating the probabilities of a profitable exchange of ideas by means of a discussion and then decide what to do. If the distance is too big, I think I would probably simply drop the question.

• If I had been offended I could consider closing the question with an offensive reply (with the clear awareness that this offensive reply would be just an expression of my belonging to the human race and would serve no purpose other than that of pleasing my offended ego (but also this purpose is not always simply negative or bad, it may be a way of keeping one’s balance (and, like all means for keeping one’s balance, it’s “better” to be able to do without, but only if it is truly so))).

The final point, as for many questions of our life, is that what is important is the Moon, not the finger pointing to it, all other considerations are secondary.

What makes a real difference is not if one is offended or has offended someone else, but if someone who was presented with it has lost or not an occasion to understand, grow up, change and evolve.

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