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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 29-Nov-15


Sunday 29-November-15

Jokes, outrage and moral sensitization

Time was, you could make jokes about anyone, played pranks, wound people up. Now, you must self-censor lest others become offended. In some ways it's right. It's not good to distress other people. Yet it is troubling when others seem increasingly sensitive, taking umbrage at remarks that once would have been ignored or shrugged off.

I'm Welsh and have heard enough sheep jokes in my time. I've never been bothered by them. In fact I treat such comments as an indication of trust, that I won't be bothered and it is OK to indulge in a little banter. Yet strangely (or not) I haven't heard any sheep jokes for quite some time now.

The psychology of outrage follows a common path. You say something. The other person (or an intervening defender) is outraged. This casts you as a bad person and them as judge and jury, able to outspokenly critical of you and make punitive demands as restitution. Such action may also help them feel pleasantly powerful.

A common problem here is that it is often assumed you intended to offend or are inherently biased, while neither may be true. It is very easy to misunderstand the intent of others, for example interpreting teasing as bullying.

This can spiral as morality power games are played out and, as cautions become normalized, newer sensitivities are unearthed and society sensitized to them. I feel the prick when people make comments about 'the Welsh' and sometimes pass comment, though I also try hard to avoid negativity and accept bias as a normal feature of humanity rather than a deliberate attempt to gain social advantage.

Nothing is simple and while being considerate and protecting the vulnerable is a good thing, perhaps we should be more forgiving of those that say things against us, accepting them as human and imperfect rather than judging them as unkind or insensitive.

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