I don’t know when this happened. It kind of crept up on me over the years. But now there is a highly vocal group of people who police the Internet and try to destroy those they deem “offensive.” This is bullshit.
For one thing, what’s offensive is highly subjective. In any group of people, you are likely to find some who are offended by some phrase; others who are not at all offended; and even some who like the phrase. This can apply to just about any phrase, word, name, or other expression. Some will find it offensive, others will not.
Now, I agree that it’s better not to offend people unnecessarily. Why deliberately cause trouble? Why not choose the milder word, the gentler phrase, when there is a choice? It’s common courtesy; and while courtesy isn’t common, at least it should be.
But the problem is that it’s probably impossible to make any statement or comment that won’t offend someone. If I say something about some minority (racial, political, sexual, orientation, nationality, etc., etc.), it is almost certain that someone, somewhere, will find it offensive. It’s gotten to the point where I could be judged harshly for referring to someone by the wrong pronoun. If I say, “he” when they prefer to be called “them,” I’m toast.
The thing is, with so many different groups of people, there will always be plenty of people who are offended about something. This does not – or at least it should not – automatically mean that the author of the comment is an evil person who must be purged from the Earth. It could mean the author is an asshole, or even a bigot. And so what?
I get offended by a lot of things, such as ads that assume I’m an idiot, documentaries that refer to dates as BC and AD, who bash straight white males because they think it’s OK to do that… lots of things. But somehow I manage to survive, and even to thrive.
Instead of worrying about being offensive, I think it would be far more helpful and reasonable to concern ourselves with doing harm. When someone says “AD,” I am annoyed and (mildly) offended. I am not in any way harmed.
When someone in a minority is insulted by a bigoted word or phrase, sure, it hurts. It sucks to be called ignorant and vicious names. And it’s not acceptable to allow anyone to dehumanize any human being. But there are always going to be ignorant people who simply don’t get it. If you get all bent out of shape over them, you’ll make yourself miserable.
But in the meantime, you’ll make everyone else miserable as well.
I don’t know what’s acceptable or not. It chances rapidly, and what was OK yesterday might be absolutely forbidden today. And yet, it might be an innocent mistake.
The issue with the pronouns is a case in point. I can’t keep up with the changes. “He” and “She” are sometimes considered inappropriate; “them” is one alternative. Evidently there are other alternatives. I don’t know what they are. But honestly, I have lived my entire life using “he” and “she” as pronouns, and I am not able to keep up.
Some people will be offended by being referred to with binary pronouns, and I’m sorry for that. I mean no harm; I just don’t know what’s allowed. So I do as I was taught throughout my life. You’ll just have to deal with that bit of offense. I’m not a monster. I’m not a bigot. I’m just not up on all the allowed terminology. So if you’re offended by being called “he,” then you might take some comfort knowing that I am offended by dates being “AD.” We all have our preferences, and society will never be able to keep up with them all. There needs to be some give-and-take.
Being offended is not an injury. It’s largely a choice. I would rather that I never offend anyone, but it is impossible for me to avoid it. So deal with it. It’s part of life.