Like you, I’ve been offended, off and on, by one thing or another, on this day or that, all my life. But I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what any of those things were. Which is part of the point. The offending words, the offensive acts, seem an enormity when first heard or observed, but they fade and then vanish, at least for most of us, most of the time. When I began teaching First Amendment issues (a long time ago), and asked students to think about whether there should be legal consequences for offensive words and concepts, I saw it as an intellectual problem and never particularly stopped to ask myself whether I was offended by what we read, or offended that some people seek to offend others, or why anyone gets offended, anyway. They just did. It’s natural. Of course.
Then one semester, in the space of a couple of weeks, two students, in different courses, accused me of offending them. This had never happened. Continue reading