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State of Education: Offended?

By Pooja Bachani

Offended? Of course, it’s in style. Generation Z, and Generation Y to a certain extent, members are often heard saying “I’m offended” as they express utter disdain towards a person or idea. But what does it mean to be offended? How did the term enter our conversational discourse?

Let us begin with the etymological roots. The term “offend” is partly borrowed from early 12th century French (and partly from Latin), defined in the former as “to strike against,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Later in the same century, it acquired the definition that inspires its use today, “to hurt someone’s feelings.” While the meaning is still the same, the term has certainly become as ubiquitous as the phrase “cool” was 10 years ago. Wherein lies the catalyst?

In the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt presented one possible solution in their article, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” According to Lukianoff and Haidt, the current movement of restricting speech that could be triggering (or offensive) is not a second wave of a push towards political correctness; instead, it is a movement that has emotional well-being at the hub of its wheel.

Students are seeking protection from what they deem to be dangerous ideas, pushing colleges to create “safe spaces” to protect their ever so fragile minds. However, the movement does not stop at protection; the spokes of the wheel are punishments for those who attempt to thwart the coddling efforts.

Lukianoff and Haidt thoroughly detail the process of how society reached this precipice (and it is certainly a worthwhile read), but, for now, let’s focus on the hub of the wheel— protecting our emotional well-being.

If I say I am offended by X (person or statement), it means that X hurt my feelings; I had an emotional reaction to X. Does that then predicate the conclusion, “X should not exist?” Absolutely not! The protection of our emotional well-being does not entail an elimination of all things that could potentially challenge us; on the other hand, that which challenges us only makes us stronger.

To immediately jump to “I am offended!” is to shutter the gates towards discourse, and discourse fosters intellectual growth. There will be no growth if we create a mote of cushioning around our emotions and, to a certain extent, our minds; an offensive statement should not be enough to run screaming for the hills.

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