According to this online dictionary, offended is defined, in part, thusly:
(v. tr.) 1. To cause displeasure, anger, resentment, or wounded feelings in.
I've been thinking about the concept of giving / taking offense and/or the state of being offended lately because of a bunch of conversations online which I will not enumerate. Recent features of our US Presidential campaigning, ditto. Some additional scenarios in my real world existence, you betcha. Suffice it to say that I've been considering the evidence, such as it is, that has apparently been taken as justification for taking offense in a number of scenarios. I have found it wanting. I have also been considering a scenario or two in which it appears that one of my correspondents feels that I am unjustifiably "taking offense" because I am "too sensitive". This makes me howl. Because I very rarely find myself in the emotional state that is, to all appearances from others, properly considered the "offended" state. Still, this failure to understand what is apparently a basic feature of human nature makes one step back and consider.
I have come to the conclusion that I have a modest deficit in understanding the concept of "offended".
Now to be honest, I frequently have a certain evocative image of "offended", created (I think) by Robin Williams who remarked upon people who look as if they have a very small turd under their nose. So I will admit that I start from a position of finding people who are offended, well, pretty funny. Ridiculous even. And in many cases said "offended" individuals go right ahead and render themselves even more comical by engaging in all sorts of rhetorical excess about the "offending" situation. The emotion seems to render people illogical, willing to spout all sorts of nonsense, to take positions antithetical to their own record or beliefs, to launch absurd ad hominem attacks. I find this curious.
Does this mean that other peoples' actions do not bother me? Of course not. People engage in all sorts of behavior and express beliefs that I find objectionable. Ofttimes, I go ahead and point this out directly to the source. I am quite willing to argue with people until the cows come home. Nevertheless, I rarely find myself feeling, well, offended. This suggests two things. Either I do not really understand other people who are acting or expressing "being offended" such that they have the same lack of emotional component and I misinterpret their rhetorical excesses. Or, I have a deficit in feeling "offended".
Here's where you come in Dear Reader. What does it mean to you to be offended? What sort of situations cause you offense? When does a discussion of ideas pass the threshold from an argument over correctness of viewpoint into Offend-o-land? How do we quantify and compare offending situations?
Update 3/24/08: As luck would have it, we have an interesting and highly related comment thread developing over at The Intersection after Sheril expressed the classic offense-designed-to-manipulate-others'-behavior based on personal taste:
That kind of language and reaction is simply unacceptable on and off the blogosphere.
In case you are wondering, said offense was taken because after this comment from Nisbet:
So Richard and PZ, when it comes to Expelled, it's time to let other people be the messengers for science. This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog.
PZ Myers had the gall to respond with:
Fuck you very much, Matt. You know where you can stick your advice.
Updated 3/25/08: Sheril has now amended her post:
It's worth pointing out, my problem is not with profanity.
AAUGHHH! This sort of thing is not helpful in my quest to understand "offense". Because this sort of backpedaling leaves one with the conclusion that Sheril was just completely faking up outrage in an attempt to score points against PZ's message without addressing the message itself. Lame.