Thursday, July 17, 2008


Earlier this week somebody asked me whether people ever get offended at some of the things I say. “Sure, sometimes,” I said, and asked him whether he was offended by something I had said. “No, just wondering,” he said, “because of some of the things you say in class.”

I don’t set out to offend anybody. I have almost no compulsion to shock others. I have opinions, even entire worldviews, that are at odds with what people are used to hearing, but I don’t adopt them simply to be contrary.

In the classroom I rarely share my opinions, less out of timidity or prudence (I sometimes do express personal positions and see nothing wrong with teachers freely expressing their opinions) than out of a desire to get students to think for themselves, knowing, from experience, that students often grab hold of teachers’ opinions as substitutes for coming up with their own.

But I have no problem if my ideas offend others. It’s part of the learning process. A lot of people are offended by anything that doesn’t neatly fit into the order of things as they have come to understand it. I imagine Plato’s wanderer shocked some cavedwellers when he pointed out that the shadows on the wall are not the only reality there is. Any ideas to substantially improve society are at first going to sound shocking to those who have spent lifetimes nesting in the status quo.

I’m not running for office or selling anything, so, so what if something I say offends people? It’s something they have to learn to deal with in the same way that I have to deal with some of the strange, silly shit other people say—such as, in a current debate in the North Carolina legislature, that Jesus wants to exclude gay and lesbian kids from the protections granted in a proposed anti-bullying bill.

Furthermore, if you don’t offend people with your ideas sometimes, I have serious reservations about the value of your ideas. If what you have to say or write about is so obvious as to be anticipated, readily absorbed, or taken for granted, why bother communicating it all?

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