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George Will: “The New American Entitlement” Is “To Go Through Life Without Being Offended”

This should be a topic that generates a lively discussion!

During the media hullabaloo earlier this year regarding “Duck Dynasty” patriarch and reality TV star Phil Robertson’s church sermons on homosexuality which prompted TLC to suspend him from the show, political analyst George Will was asked by a viewer the following question:

“In the context of this controversy, is political correctness killing our freedom?”

George Will replied….

No, our freedom is really quite secure. Look, this is a big complicated country. This is a week in which New Mexico and Utah became respectively the 17 and 18 states to acquire, by judicial decisions, the same sex marriage. In the same week, Walmart’s supply of “Duck Dynasty” merchandise sold out like that as a sign of support for Mr. Robertson. So, we’ve got people on both sides of this. His First Amendment rights are not in danger. The First Amendment protects individuals from government action that would either prior restrain speech or punish speech after it’s uttered. This is an argument between him and his employer. Let them sort it out.

What we do see here, and this goes to the viewers’ question about political correctness, the new biggest American entitlement is the entitlement to go through life without being offended. People think they have a right not to have their feelings hurt, not to have their sensibilities in any way exacerbated. I’d refer them to Jefferson who said, “It does me no harm if my neighbor believes in 20 gods or one god, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” We have worked for millennia to get to a point where we say the law will protect our possessions and our persons, but not our feelings and people just have to get over it.

So, the question up for discussion is whether George Will is correct and Americans have developed this entitlement to not be exposed to things that offend them.    I concur with Will that people espouse tolerance but when faced with situations, political views or people that challenge their own personal worldview, there is an expectation that tolerance does not extend to *those* people and they are validated in being intolerant.

Please note that this not an opportunity to push your own political agendas and comments which swerve off into political rants will not make it out of moderation.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Renee November 12, 2014, 5:21 pm

    “American entitlement is the entitlement to go through life without being offended.” I find this to be the root of a lot of problems. I’m not sure where it began but sense of entitlement in general has gotten out of hand. Gone are the days of agreeing to disagree. Nowadays, if I don’t agree with you then I’m going to start a petition to close your store, website, radio station..etc. Then I will shame you on every social website known to man.

    I love the quote by Jefferson listed above. In my life, if you want to worship green cell phone cases and eat cherry Jell-O on Thursdays at 3pm; I don’t care. It does not interrupt my life nor does it harm me in any way. Who am I to tell someone they shouldn’t eat cherry Jell-O?

    My husband and I often have discussions about society. We wonder when did it all change. As of late it seems that it’s my way or the highway. I say live and let live.

    I don’t always agree with the things I hear but I respect Freedom of Speech. With Freedom of Speech comes Freedom of Choice. I can choose who to socialize with. I can choose what radio station to listen to.

    • Kate November 14, 2014, 3:53 am

      With Freedom of Speech comes Freedom of Choice.

      Wow. I love this line!

  • Vermin8 November 12, 2014, 8:05 pm

    The question is – have Americans developed in recent decades (I’m 50-ish so I’ll say in my lifetime give or take a decade or 2) a belief that one should never be offended? I say no- I think this phenomenon has always been around – perhaps worse in past times.

    EG, the guy from Duck Dynasty lost his job over his controversial statement.
    30-40 years ago his job would have been safe. In the same time frame, if someone had something in the opposite direction, they would have been at risk of losing their job. Is that better?

    Go back in a time machine to Middle America circa Eisenhower years and announce “I’m an (—fill in your favorite 50s offense here)” – then come back and tell me if you think that population was much more accepting and easy going than this one.

    So while I agree with Mr. Will’s point about our freedoms our in place I don’t think there is any more of an expectation that one should go through life unoffended – the balance of power has shifted so that many of those who could speak freely years ago now have to think before speaking.

    I feel much more confident about speaking my mind than years ago – the key is 1) do so when it’s appropriate and not just because you have an axe to grind 2) avoid insulting statements to persons or demographic groups 3) don’t expect those close to you to get on and stay on your bandwagon just because it’s your bandwagon (ie if they don’t agree don’t take it personally) and 4) realize you don’t know everything.

  • EllenS November 12, 2014, 8:29 pm

    I think everyone is entitled to their feelings and opinions. That includes the feeling of offense.

    Where I think the entitlement comes in, is when people expect authority figures to step in and force someone else to stop saying/doing the thing that offends them. It’s childish. “Mommy, he’s looking at me again!”

    Daphne had a great example above, of someone sending her repulsive (to her) pictures on her email. She handled it appropriately, in my view – she asked him to stop. She didn’t go on some kind of anti-hunting crusade, or create a petition that the Internet should only allow pictures she liked.

  • Rachel November 12, 2014, 9:24 pm

    Sure I agree. Do I think it’s a bad thing? No. I love how even when America does something good-intentioned, people still want to slam it. Go figure.

    Thick skin is a coping mechanism for how awful people can be to each other. It should not be praised or held up as a standard, yet it always is. There will always be those who want the right to hurt and offend everyone, and this sentiment about Americans having too many sensibilities just furthers bullying.

    • Yet Another Laura November 13, 2014, 6:33 am

      Good point, Rachel. It’s not about Americans, it’s about abusers and bullies. They’re looking for a social license to operate.

      The verbal abuser’s favorite line is “(S)he’s so oversensitive!” when talking about their target to others. This is their way of seeing how much they can get away with. Their other favorite lines are “I tell it like it is without sugarcoating” and “I’m brutally honest. The truth hurts.” They telegraph their moves so they can see whether the people they’re with will defend them or their target.

      The social license to operate is shifting to side with the targets instead of the bullies and abusers. The bullies act like society has taken away their favorite toy.

      There’s no reason truth has to come without tact and there’s no excuse for pushing people’s buttons.

      • Tracy W November 17, 2014, 8:59 am

        But the other side of it is that if we don’t expect a certain amount of toughness, verbal abusers can hold themselves up as victims as part of their abuse. See for example this reported case of an abuser Benjanun Sriduangkaew/Requires Hate.

        Working out who the target and who the bully is can often be very difficult. I don’t have any good answers.

    • Tracy W November 13, 2014, 9:21 am

      We do need thick skin. I don’t know anything about your lifestyle (though I suspect you’re American), but I’m sure that there is someone somewhere in the USA who is deeply offended by some aspect of it. Should you therefore keep quiet and refrain your speech to nothing more controversial than the weather?

      Yes, there will always be those who want the right to hurt and offend everyone, but there will always also be people who want the right to live their lives in the way they want, even if some aspects of their lives offend some people. Should gays, or Christians, or Muslims, or atheists, or multi-racial couples or people in traditional marriages or working mums or stay-at-home-mums or stay-at-home-dads have to hide who they are because someone somewhere is offended by their choices and lifestyle?

      • another Laura November 14, 2014, 7:48 am

        Very well put, Tracy W.
        And sometimes the reason I disagree with a person’s lifestyle choice is because it is unhealthy for them to have. Should I refrain from telling someone that drug use or prostitution (as examples that most people agree are not beneficial to health) are bad for them, just so I don’t hurt their feelings? Does that mean I am using “hate speech” against those who make those lifestyle choices?

        • Nialla November 14, 2014, 11:47 pm

          Yes, you should refrain, unless they asked for your opinion on the matter. I don’t know if I would call it hate speech but it’s certainly rude and none of your business.

  • David November 13, 2014, 2:04 am

    I’ve never watched ‘Duck Dynasty’. When I first saw an ad for the show I went; “Why would I want to watch a bunch of people that make duck calls? How would that be even remotely interesting?” Nothing I’ve seen or heard about the show has changed my mind.

    Jefferson was right about it not being a big deal if your neighbor worships 1 or 20 gods, but that is only if your neighbor doesn’t worship their god(s) by breaking your legs. If their worship includes sacrificing unbelievers at the altar then it’s a problem. The same with other beliefs – you can believe anything you want, but if you cause harm to others as part of your beliefs then you should desist.

    • AthenaC November 14, 2014, 5:00 pm

      “Why would I want to watch a bunch of people that make duck calls?”

      Two words: Uncle Si.

      But the show lost it’s appeal for me a while ago, so I don’t watch it anymore.

  • P November 13, 2014, 3:54 am

    If you think about how Americans bring up their children – “you’re the centre of the universe” – it’s hardly surprising that this mindset continues into adulthood. If you’re brought up to believe that the world revolves around you and your needs and wants, you’re going to expect the same when you grow up. People don’t like being told “no” in America, it would seem. The example of having to invite all the children in the class to the birthday party so that nobody is left out/upset/offended is a prime one. How silly. When do children learn that the world does not revolve around them? This entitlement starts in the classroom and continues into adulthood.

    The suing culture in America surely does not help. Being able to sue for “hurt feelings” is *ludicrous*.

    People have the right to be offended by whatever they want. They don’t have the right to tell other people not to do it just so their delicate sensibilities are not upset.

    To the rest of the world, your sensibilities are mostly utterly baffling and also rather contradictory.

    • j. November 14, 2014, 9:25 am

      It’s interesting that you know how “most” Americans raise their children.

    • Just Call Me J November 14, 2014, 8:36 pm

      There’s a difference between not liking to hear “no” and being unable to tolerate being told “no”.

      The former is normal. The latter is scary, especially because it can (and in recent cases has) turned lethally violent.

  • Mojo November 13, 2014, 9:03 am

    I don’t see that offending someone is, of itself, enough reason to stop my behaviour. It’s a good place to start talking about our opposing viewpoints. If a real, lasting, tangible harm is being done, it’s probably already against the law. But you can’t stop people doing what they like to do, just because you don’t like to do that. Besides, what’s offensive to a culture changes every generation.

    I defer to Stephen Fry’s comments, as a man who can put it so much better than I could:

    `It’s now very common to hear people say “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I am offended by that”, well so f’ing what?’

  • Amber November 13, 2014, 9:44 am

    Oooh, this is a really interesting question. Do we have the right to not be offended?

    Obviously, legally, no. But I do think that society as a whole can decide what is gauche or “not cool” or harassment in the public sphere. Society has the right to shun someone who is offensive. Individuals have a right to point out things that are offensive, and encourage others to shun a person/business/group/etc. So. for instance, the Westboro Baptist Church was first denounced, and then when it was found that the denunciation fed their cause, was largely shunned and ignored. Or, look at the new movement against catcalling. Slowly but surely, activists are trying to change society’s outlook on whether or not catcalling is something that should ever be in the public sphere. There could come a time when an icy glare will be given by most when a catcall occurs, rather than shrugged at and treated as “whattayagonnado? I don’t do it” by men that don’t catcall and ducked away from to end the situation as quickly as possible by the women who are catcalled.

    So, sure, people don’t have an inalienable right not to be offended. But society has ways of punishing offense that has nothing to do with locking a person up and throwing away the key. I certainly don’t think people who are offensive have a right to not be punished by society for their offense.

    • eeek November 15, 2014, 11:49 am

      Thank you, Amber, for saying well what I’ve been ruminating over about this thread for days. From my point of view, it is just this:

      We don’t have an inalienable right not to be offended.
      Those who say offensive things don’t have a right not to be called on saying things that are offensive.
      Thoughtful dialogue about what is, and is not, socially acceptable moves society forward.

      Depending on the topic, and the ubiquity of the speech deemed to be offensive or no longer tolerable, and the size of the public sphere in which the speech occurs, speakers may feel attacked when told that their speech is offensive. This is where both Stephen Fry’s and Christopher Hitchens’ statements come in: the dialogue may be triggered if someone simply says “that is offensive” – but it may move further, when the statement contains an explanation.

      “I’m offended that you use the phrase ‘that’s so gay’ to describe things you don’t like” does not say as much as “as an LGBTQ ally, I find it offensive when people use that derogatory term; first, it’s usually just inaccurate and confusing – the thing you’re describing isn’t at all gendered and there’s no way for it to actually be ‘gay’, so I really don’t know what you mean other than to insult gay people. I do think using that term is insulting to my friends and to me, since you think I would automatically understand what you mean. I don’t – I assume you’re using the term metaphorically, and that you equate ‘gay’ with some sort of ‘bad’, but I may be wrong. Can you explain what you mean when you use that phrase?”

      Does asking people to explain (or defend) their offensive speech limit that speech? I don’t think so. It might encourage them to think more clearly about what they believe, whatever that may be. It should help me understand them better. And that has consequences – improved understanding doesn’t mean I will agree with them, or they with me, or that our friendship won’t be changed.

      I think the large public discussions, though different, echo this pattern on a different scale, with many voices. Sure, some of those are just screaming about being offended – but many others are thoughtful expositions about why the offense is taken.

  • Suomynona November 13, 2014, 10:14 am

    I follow several blogs on Tumblr. Some of them post amusing jokes poking fun at a group of people I am marginally involved in. Now while the people I know from this group are wonderful people, I am perfectly willing to admit that the group as a whole can be problematic. Still, this group has gotten me through a lot of dark times, and I don’t like to feel like I am being attacked for being associated with it. So I asked my friends to tag their posts, I blacklisted that tag, and I went about my business. And if one gets through that isn’t tagged, I skip by it. Yes, the posts offend me, but this is what they choose to post on their blog, and I cannot be the content police for everyone I follow. If someone starts posting more and more that I find offensive, I simply unfollow them.

    I think it’s incumbent upon the individual to avoid offense as much as possible. There are extreme people who fall all over the map on beliefs. No matter what you do, there is someone out there who could be offended by it. Does this mean you should stop espousing beliefs and being who you are? No. I firmly believe that as long as you make an effort to avoid offending the majority of people that you are with, it goes a long way. There are jokes that have been in my family for years that I would never tell at a friend’s church for fear of being offensive. I would not go into a Jewish temple and eat a ham and cheese sandwich. I wouldn’t invite a Muslim friend to an all-you-can-eat buffet during Ramadan. On the other hand, if someone invited me out to do something that I personally find distasteful but is accepted by society as a whole, I have the option to politely decline and tell them that I really don’t like that, please don’t invite me again, but have a good time.

  • Kirst November 13, 2014, 2:37 pm

    I have no patience with people complaining they are offended. People choose to be offended. It’s just as easy to choose to ignore something. Offence isn’t the same as hurt, or anger. I would never want to knowingly hurt someone, and mainly I don’t want to anger people, but I really don’t care if people decide to be offended. It’s a meaningless whinge.

  • EchoGirl November 13, 2014, 4:03 pm

    I think it is important to respect that sometimes “offended”, which suggests intellectual and moral involvement, isn’t really the issue or at least not the only issue. Words *can* hurt, and brushing that off by acting like they’re getting morally indignant or being “politically correct” basically disregards that. No, we’re not entitled to go through life without being offended, but everyone in the world could stand to be a little more concerned with how their words affect other people. Instead, they get wrapped up in “I have the right to say what I want!” which to me seems like an entitlement mentality all its own.

    Also, I’ve found from experience that a lot of the people who espouse that they have the right to say what they want tend to get very indignant when people express a point of view that differs from their own. They want to be able to say whatever pops to mind and never mind who is offended but they only want to hear opinions that mesh with their own.

    • Kirst November 14, 2014, 1:16 pm

      I think feeling hurt is different from feeling offended.

      • EchoGirl November 15, 2014, 1:03 pm

        Going back to the original example from Duck Dynasty, then, I imagine people were hurt as well as offended by what was said, and yet all the controversy focused on “political correctness” (code for “I’m shutting you down by saying you don’t really care”) and people being offended. What about gay people and their kids who might have actually been hurt by these comments?

      • EchoGirl December 3, 2014, 4:16 pm

        I do too, but I also think a lot of people who say things that hurt people turn around and fall back on the idea that the hurt person is offended or being politically correct rather than have to address the fact that their words just hurt someone. They use it as a way to avoid taking responsibility for the impact of their words.

        (I think my first reply here was moderated out, possibly for being too political, so this is my attempt to make the same point without the political bit)

  • ClockworkBanana November 13, 2014, 4:50 pm

    So, the main point of the topic is to discuss the premise that “……political correctness, the new biggest American entitlement is the entitlement to go through life without being offended”.

    Anything I add to this main conversation will be redundant at this late juncture. Suffice to say, that my position is that of course anyone has the right to be offended by others opinions, words or actions. And of course anyone has the right to voice that state of offence if they so choose. It is how, why and where they voice it and what expectations they have after voicing it that seems to be the crux of the matter, and has been thoroughly discussed.

    But one area that I did not see too much touched on is where someone uses their position of being offended, or manufacturing offence as a platform for personal gain, and where compensation is demanded for one’s sensibilities having been bruised.

    What seems to be a huge example of this is the presentation of the so-called ‘race card’. I am not American, (Canuck, so not nearly even close to immune or innocent to seeing racism), but most of my knowledge of the prevalence of this is through reading American blog posts and news items, especially ones from customer service personnel. These usually take the form of the offendee having been denied some request or demand, often because it is against store policy, and then suggesting that they are being stymied due to their colour, mother tongue, physical impairments, or otherwise. The offendee then threatens to escalate their demands and asks for further, often ludicrous recompense because they have ostensibly been offended or have been discriminated against.

    This bothers me a great deal, not least of reasons being that it does set back the still real and prevalent discrimination that exists and is still exhibited in some parts of North America. Therefore, as soon as a person goes to the media, decrying prejudice, their possibly legitimate complaint can be dismissed as a ‘cry wolf’ situation.

    So often, I read in these stories, that the manager or supervisor of the establishment bends over backwards to give the person making the complaint discounts, coupons, freebies etc. etc., because they are so afraid of being painted with the political incorrectness or bigotry brush. And that just sends people’s propensity to want to be tolerant back another step. And to me it makes the idea that one has a legitimate right to loudly voice being offended by something someone said, possibly completely unknowingly or innocently, as being sometimes suspect. And I don’t like feeling like that.

    I am not absolutely clear on the point I am trying to make. I guess it boils down to the fact that although there ARE many examples of the original entitlement premise throughout history, as has been talked about up thread, I do believe that it has become a much larger issue in the last couple of decades, and my example is just one of the negative consequences.

  • Karen November 13, 2014, 6:22 pm

    I find it amazing that otherwise intelligent people seem to think that this whole kerfluffle was anything other than a well planned out media buy. A year later, and we’re all still talking about these people. Mission accomplished.

  • Jared Bascomb November 13, 2014, 8:16 pm

    My example of someone looking to be offended:
    I worked with a woman who was a radical lesbian separatist. She came into work one Monday and told me about a bike ride she had done the day before, finishing with a ride up a long steep hill. En route up the hill, a man doing yard work called out to her, “Way to go! Keep it up!”
    Then she said, “Why can’t these men keep their comments to themselves? How did he even know I was a woman? I don’t shave my legs, I have short hair and was wearing a helmet, and I have small breasts?”

    That example aside, I think what (dare I say it?) offends me most is not so much the thin-skinned people who expect or see or look for offense in every encounter, but the people who exploit that tendency to being offended for their own personal or political gain.
    These “secondary offendees” include people who could explain things like standard legal procedures in a civil lawsuit, but instead hype up the rhetoric, making matters worse, and hyping up the victim card.

  • LadyStormwing November 13, 2014, 9:58 pm

    To put it another way, I suppose being offended by a statement, behavior, etc., only becomes a problem when one has unrealistic expectations of forcing others to change their ways in order to avoid offending you (using the general “you” here). One example of this would be a couple suing a school district to ban the American Pledge of Allegience because it contains the phrase “under God”; each school makes a practice of reciting the pledge each morning. Rather than instruct their child to merely sit or stand quietly, they try to strong-arm the district into eliminating the ritual entirely so as to avoid the phrase “under God”.

  • danmar7 November 15, 2014, 10:19 pm

    George and Stephen have always been tops on my hero list. If you’re a staunch vegan, a bbq cookoff is probably not a good place for you, and your choices are to pack your celery sticks and granola and join your friends, and be a good sport, or be adult and tell them that’s not a place you want to be. Same for ex-smokers and drinkers: a bar/night club is probably not the best place for you if you can’t handle everyone else smoking and drinking.

    You can’t expect the grocery store to stop carrying meat because you don’t eat it. That’s not being offended, that’s being unreasonable and unrealistic. Find a vegan friendly market, pay the upcharges, or grow your own.

    A few weekends ago, I was out to eat with friends with their 2 kids. A few booths over, a slightly larger group with 2 younger kids were also dining. Except the kids at the other booth were using the benches as a trampoline, screaming at the top of their lungs. 1) How about no more soda for them? 2) Asked the server if a manager could ask the parents to stop the behavior, since it poses a liability to the facility for injury? (Handing them a huge out there)

    Server asks “Oh is it offending you?” No it’s not offending, but it is incredibly inconsiderate. The kids weren’t leaping and screaming with hate posters. They were just undisciplined. Let them continue on that path, and as adults, they will become offensive.

  • Enna November 22, 2014, 5:49 am

    I believe respect is a two way street. People are allowed to have their own opinions provided they don’t harm people – exteremits and radicals who advocate violence to me will always be in the wrong. Disagreeing with homosexuality is one thing, but saying homosexuals should be killed or beaten up I think is a horrible thing to say.

  • Zeph November 22, 2014, 10:47 pm

    I agree that everyone is developing this ‘victim’ mentality that is in turn making them weaker in a way. When I was younger, bullying was just a part of life. You can’t change humans, so it was easier to change yourself by not letting yourself get bugged by these things.

    But preaching hate against people is dangerous, and it creates a very violent world for some people. I still know transgender people who can’t walk down the street without getting insulted and fear being physically assaulted or even killed. Many homosexuals have to fear discrimination and similar violent behaviour towards them, and this is mainly because of religion and it’s views on homosexuality and transgender people. So if we can censor people, it doesn’t bother me. I just want to feel safe.

  • EchoGirl December 3, 2014, 4:22 pm

    Let me also say, sometimes people making a big deal can actually make the person who said the offensive thing look at the situation in a new way, provided the person in question is willing to listen to an opposing position. Recently, George Takei (who I usually love) posted a picture meme on his Facebook page that upset a bunch of people with disabilities. When the disability community called him out on it and pointed out the problem, he listened to what they had to say, admitted that he had not considered that angle and that he had not intended for the meme to imply the negative things it did, and took it down. Debate and dissent are good as long as people can stay civil.

  • Chris December 6, 2014, 5:24 pm

    Freedom of speech only refers to “The government will not prosecute or take action against you, except in the case of slander or libel, or perjury when under oath.” It has no legal standing when used to refer to anything else.

    You, technically, can say whatever you want at work. The government cannot prosecute you (unless you do one of the above things) BUT if you offend your co-workers, you probably WILL lose your job. This is not a “freedom of speech” issue as much as it is “You are NOT free from ANY non-governmental consequences for your speech.”

    I forget who said it, but I love the phrase: “I disagree with every word that man said, but I will defend to the death his right to say it.”

    In the Duck Dynasty case, the issue was more a TV company was losing advertisers due to public pressure on said advertisers. Technically it has nothing to do with “freedom of speech” as I mentioned above.

    When it comes to being tolerant of different views, it really depends how they are expressed. What I think happens is people tend to keep to their little circles, using social media/etc, who share the same views, and they tend to communicate in fiery rhetoric with each other. Fine when they all agree. But, when that same style of communication is used with someone who disagrees, it tends to start conflict.

    So, to have respect it must be both ways. When speaking, we must be considerate, to an extent that other people will have very different views — so, stay away from really extremist black and white expressions. When listening, if the other person is being respectful in how they say, it’s important to respect that their view is right for THEM and has nothing to do with what YOU believe. So there’s no need to be rude in return because their view is so different from yours.

    The only time it’s important to thrash out a common understanding is when both people are doing or planning a shared activity, in real life. Otherwise, a lot of the “wars” on social media serve no purpose except to get people angry.