Are you offended? Have you ever met someone that was easily offended? Have you ever told them that that gives the other side ammunition? Their response centers on the idea that it’s not them. They’re not easily offended. The just find the other party offensive. A younger talk show host, named Dennis Prager, took questions from the audience after a speech. A woman asked Mr. Prager a question. In the course of that question, she informed him that his views on the subject of her question offended her. When she finished her question, Dennis Prager answered it. He then went back to the idea that he offended her. “You said you were offended,” he said. “Why were you offended?” The two went back and forth for a bit before it became clear that her basis for declaring Dennis Prager offensive was that Dennis Prager had a different view on the subject. An older, wiser Dennis Prager looked back on that Q&A and suggested that the sole reason the woman was offended was that she disagreed with his opinion on the matter. “This,” Dennis Prager said, “Is what is going on in our culture today. Too many people confuse having a different opinion with being offended.”
We all believe that we have special insight on a given subject that leads us to know more than others. The others could be wrong, and they could be ill informed, but those that are offended believe that it’s more likely that they have a nefarious motivation for believing the way they do. Some of us do have a motive, and some of those motives are nefarious. We cannot discount that. We can say, however, that not everyone that disagrees with another has a nefarious reason for doing so. This is what we call painting with a broad brush. When a loved one disagrees with us, we know that we can’t paint them with this broad brush, so we find, or fabricate, a motive for them disagreeing with our impassioned pursuit of the truth. It seems impossible that educated people that have put some thought into their opinions can disagree with ours, so the only answer can be that they’ve arrived at their notion by nefarious means, and that offends us. Claiming offense seems like a shortcut to persuading another of their views. It’s a way of saying that I hold passionate beliefs based upon my special insight into the human condition, and you are not only wrong and lacking by virtue of your limited insight, but you are irredeemable.
Here’s how to do it, for the uninformed. If the member of an audience hears a comment from someone that audience member shares a worldview, or they like on a personal level, it doesn’t matter what that comment is, the audience members finds a way to support, excuse, or forgive that provocateur’s comment. The general thesis of their reply is, “I know what’s in his heart.” If a provocative point comes from an individual that has an opposing worldview, it doesn’t matter what’s in that person’s heart. In an attempt to portray themselves as well informed, the offended will react to the provocateur’s point. In the face of what they deem to be an offensive statement, they react. They don’t argue against the merits of the case the provocateur presents, and they don’t offer a substantive counter argument. They react, and that reaction is to claim offense. Being offended permits them, and some would say obligates them, to be offensive in return.
Bowie: The difference between rock stars and musicians/artists is a wide chasm. The groups AC/DC, Eagles, and ZZ Top developed a formula that consumers enjoyed, and they enjoyed the formula. The bond between the two was such that the rock stars didn’t venture outside the formula. If their fans would argue that point, they would have to concede the groups put less effort into making their albums as different as the albums in David Bowie’s catalog. The consumer never knew what to expect from David Bowie. Most of us now know the history of David Bowie, and we now assume that long-term success was a forgone conclusion, but a broader look at his career suggests that Bowie could’ve rested on his laurels after delivering Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. How many artists would’ve sold their souls for half of the longevity of these two albums? How many artists would’ve done whatever it took to carve out the niche Bowie did in the rock world with these two albums? How many artists would’ve then released various incarnations of the formula found with those two albums, at such a young age? How many of those same artists would’ve been so grateful for the financial support that the record industry offered them to achieve such success that they would’ve been susceptible to their advice? Bowie could’ve had a successful career based almost entirely on the Ziggy Stardust character. What David Bowie decided to do was retire the Ziggy character soon after he achieved a peak with it. Three years later, he delivered an entirely different sound in Young Americans, and five years after Ziggy Stardust, he delivered three albums (in the space of two years) that demolished everything he built to that point and rebuilt a new sound for himself that some call his Berlin trilogy.
The thing with invention, and reinvention, is that an artist is bound to disappoint those that expect a more regular, consistent product. The thing with experimentation, on par with some of David Bowie’s discography, is that not all of it will work. No one that listened to Ziggy Stardust for the first time would expect that artist to produce the Low and Scary Monsters albums. Those albums are a stark departure from that which preceded them, as are Hours, Heathen, and Blackstar. I’ve listed but a few albums here, but most of the albums in Bowie’s catalogue had an individual beauty that any music lover should explore. Not everything Bowie touched turned to gold, of course, but I would say that he, more than just about any artist in his rarified air, believed that the essential ingredient of the artist was to take a risk and pursue avenues their audience might not, and often times did not, find entertaining. It is for this reason that I list David Bowie at, or near, the top of the list of rock stars that also happen to be musicians and artists.
These Dreams: Every person has dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Our individual dreams describe us as well as anything else does. I knew a person that believed that he discovered a ticket to ride. He spent a number of years compiling a VHS tape of nude scenes from movies and television shows. Before anyone begins assigning modern techniques to this pursuit, they should know that my friend make this tape in the basement of a home, in the Midwest, in the 80’s. My friend had no technical equipment. He had a pen, a notepad, and a VCR. My friend had no idea how many hours he logged compiling this tape, but he had to watch a movie, document the minute mark at which the actress removed her top, wait for the scene to arrive in the second viewing, and hit record at the perfect moment. For those that don’t remember, the cable channels of that era assisted my friend by replaying the same movie repeatedly. My friend spent years collecting these scenes, and he swears he had a three-hour tape almost full of, on average, four to five second scenes, when his sister found the tape and recorded over it. She recorded the movie Vamp for those interested in history.
Much later on in our friendship, I found a book that documented these scenes for him, so he no longer had to do it. I gave it to him for his birthday. He considered that book a bittersweet present. I was confused. I didn’t see how he could be anything less than overjoyed at the prospect that he was onto something with that tape. I told him the book had become a best seller.
“I should’ve written that book,” he said. “That book led me to the realization that I wasted years of my life making a tape that wouldn’t have seen the light of day. I was a dumb kid,” he furthered. “I didn’t know anything about licensing and attaining a person’s rights to using their image. That book had those scenes documented down to the minute, and the description of those scenes, just as I had. You joked about those little notepads, but I filled with the descriptions of the scenes in which Hollywood’s brightest stars showed their hoo hoos. It also had the exact minutes and seconds into the movie in which those top stars removed their tops. I didn’t think of rating those scenes, like that author did, but if I had spent some time writing a book on it, I probably would have come up with that. I could’ve made some real money off a book like that.”
Objectivity versus obliviousness: A friend of mine, we’ll call her Fawn, opened a story from her life with the qualifier, “This is not a story that you will view from objectively.” She said, “I don’t want you playing devil’s advocate with me. I just want you to listen.” When she finished, I went silent, as a form of rebellion to her direct order. “Well, what do you think?” she asked. I told her that she did not permit me to answer. She said I was. She just said that it had to be within the parameters that she drew up.
Everyone wants their listener to side with them in a story from their life, some just want the listener to listen with a comment the sides with them. Most are not this blatant. I thought it was a hilarious comment on the idea that I rarely take her side.
Another friend, a woman named Maddie, informed me that her friend Patricia invited Maddie to lunch at a restaurant. Maddie informed me that she reluctantly agreed to meet Patricia in this restaurant. After agreeing to go, Maddie decided that she wouldn’t be going. Maddie informed me that she had no other plans. She just didn’t want to go. Maddie also admitted that she never attempted to call Patricia beforehand to inform Patricia that she had changed her mind. Maddie then informed me that by not going, she would be leaving Patricia alone at that table in the restaurant. As the morning hours crept toward to noon, Maddie decided that she was not going to go. Rather than go through the painstaking process of developing an excuse “I just blew her off,” Maddie told me.
After the questions and answers established the particulars of this situation, I said, “How would you like that if she did that to you?” I considered this a time-honored question that my dad asked me so many times that it’s an ingrained response. I dare say that most people have a version of this question ingrained in their brain. I didn’t consider this question a brilliant display of my skills, and I didn’t consider it confrontational. I consider it a question that my dad would’ve asked of me, if I relayed such a story to him. It’s a question we ask of one another, when we think the other side doesn’t see the error of their ways.
Maddie had apparently never had a parent put them through the character-building exercise of viewing matters such as these, objectively. She informed me that Patricia wouldn’t do that to her. “You’re missing the point,” I said. In the course of this email, I set off a firestorm by saying, “I have to tell you that I think what you did was wrong. It would be one thing, if you had conflicting plans, or if you called Patricia to cancel your lunch, but leaving her at the restaurant alone was wrong.” This was the gist of my reply. It might have been a little longer, but I can report with confidence that I did not disparage Maddie’s character in any way. I did write that email, I must confess, but I deleted it. I wrote a second email that omitted my personal feelings on the matter. I wanted Maddie to continue to be my friend, but I thought someone needed to tell her what she did to Patricia was wrong.
This set Maddie off, I would later learn. She couldn’t understand why I would do this. She spoke to her brother, my best friend, to try to understand why I would say such a thing to her. They both knew that I had no allegiances to Patricia, so they couldn’t understand how I could condemn Maddie’s character in such a way.
“What’s wrong with your friend?” Maddie asked her brother. “He’s freaking out. Accusing me of stuff. He’s hysterical.” My friend, her brother, asked her for the details of the story. Maddie told him. He believed that it was all about him. He had a history of telling me that he would show up to a restaurant, and he wouldn’t show. He did this to me more than ten times. He believed I was harboring ill will towards him. I could see how he would think that, I could even see that he might have viewed me as empathetic to Patricia in that regard, based on our history, but I can tell you that I didn’t consciously call upon those moments in my defense of Patricia. I am the type that will judge people for their actions, as often as I expect them to hold me accountable for my actions, but that had no bearing on my exchange with Maddie. In the email exchange I had with her, she provided me a scenario, and I reacted. If there were never any prior occasions to match that one, and I would’ve provided that qualification in my answer.
As for the hysterical charge, our conversation occurred via email, so there was no way she could’ve determined if I was hysterical. I wasn’t hysterical. I just thought it was wrong, and I think 99% of the population would agree with me. Maddie is a princess though. Maddie lived a life where she could do no wrong, and she never had people call her out like that. Therefore, even though she couldn’t say I was wrong, she found an interesting way to make me the bad guy.
I think the two parties concerned should applaud me for my objectivity in this matter. It’s true I have no allegiances to Patricia, but Maddie was my friend until this argument. I could have viewed this episode from her perspective, but I didn’t. I made an effort to be objective. I tried to give Maddie every out possible. I asked her if Patricia had ever done this to her in the past, I asked if Patricia had ever done anything that warranted such as action on Maddie’s part, as a form of revenge, and Maddie assured me that Patricia hadn’t. I don’t think she knew what I was getting at.
No matter how many times I experience a situation similar to this, it amazes me how oblivious some people can be. My dad raised me to ask that “How would you like that if they did that to you” question. He raised me to abide by the “Treat others the way you want to be treated” credo that we all know, and we all shake our heads in agreement to it. The years I’ve spent interacting with people have taught me that most people don’t abide by tenants they shake their head to, but the obliviousness to confronting it in a given situation often shocks me.
I can see how an outsider, that doesn’t know Maddie, might think some form of guilt guided her into projecting me into the role of the bad guy, but I know Maddie. I know that guilt is not on her wheel of emotions. I believe her attempts to understand my simple reaction to her real-life scenario was genuine. When she couldn’t find my motivation for condemning her, because it made no sense to her that I should consider her actions wrong, she deemed me hysterical. When that didn’t make sense to her, she approached her brother. He came up with an answer, a plausible answer that I didn’t consider, and the two of them were satisfied with that answer. The idea that telling someone you will have lunch with them, only to blow them off and leave them at that restaurant alone, is the wrong thing to do didn’t even enter their conversation. It may sound like there’s more to story on the part of Maddie and her brother, but I can assure you there isn’t. They simply didn’t see it as wrong.
Prescription Drugs: “I think that we should take away the control doctors have over prescriptions.” How many problems in our country are drug-related? How many people have progressed from using illicit drugs to prescription drugs? How many more problems would result from the population having unfettered access to prescription drugs? At this point in a theoretical situation such as this one, the libertarian would suggest that we don’t give people enough credit. One could suppose that suspecting widespread chaos is unilaterally cynical. Yet, my counter proposal is that it’s not cynical to state that good and honest people, experiencing chronic pain, can accidentally develop a habit for taking painkillers as a means of soothing chronic pain. It’s also possible that these good and honest people can either ignore the harm these drugs can do in their quest to seek relief, or they might not have a thorough understanding of the harm some of these drugs can do. A possible overdose could occur, if informed third parties do not govern usage. Some of these informed third parties rely on test studies, and outside research to understand the benefits and harm of these drugs. They might better inform the chronic pain sufferer of the damage they may do, they might advise curtailing, and they might suggest a less addictive, alternative.
I attempt to be as libertarian as anyone else and I try to maintain an openness for suggestions regarding how America can become more libertarian, but I would suspect that one of the most libertarian politicians in Washington, ophthalmology physician Rand Paul, would agree that keeping restrictions on access to prescription drugs limited is a good thing. The answer my friend had was to take away all controls, so that we might thin the herd. You’ll have to trust me on the characterization of my friend, when I say that he was not joking.
Death: We will exit our celestial plane on a waterslide. A centrifugal force greater than gravity will pull us to the portal. The force will be such that it takes our breath away. It will dawn on us, before we hit the portal that we are dead. We will consider all we’ve left undone before we hit the slide that will take us to our next existence. Those thoughts will consume us to the point that not only will we not enjoy the ride. We won’t remember it. At the end of our ride, we will enter our local bar. The bar will be so close to our home that we will see our house on the hill. The lights will be out. Our family members will still be sleeping. We will wonder about the effect our departure will have on their lives. We will sit with many people in this bar, some of the associates we knew in life, some of the friends, and some of our loved ones that have passed on. They will tell us that this bar is our way station, our purgatory if you will, to ease us into the transition of our afterlife. They will tell us that the mystery of life is beyond most mortals, and that the only thing we do understand is that it moves on. This will soothe us and depress us. We were never as vital to their existence as we once thought. We will eventually run into an individual whose existence mirrors ours. They will tell us, “Life goes on. My son even laughed at my funeral. He wasn’t disrespectful. He wasn’t laughing at me. Somebody told a well-placed joke, that had nothing to do with anything, and he laughed. He laughed hard. I find it a depressing exclamation point on the idea that life goes on.”