Why we must risk being offensive in order to think and live together peacefully


Kevin Mangelschots

The freedom to offend someone shouldn’t always be punished, or punishable by law for that matter.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are foundations for our modern, civilized society in order to live together peacefully and cooperatively.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything should be tolerated. Things such as hate speech, racism, cyberbullying, and discrimination are punishable by law. It is important to note that there are still limits to free speech. And misusing these civil rights for the wrong reasons is not allowed.

Let me explain why being offensive should not be punishable.

Why being offensive should not be punishable

“To think, you have to risk being offensive.” We’re starting this post with this magnificent quote from Jordan Peterson. And I believe this to be exactly the case.

Let me explain why I think this is a true statement.

The foundation of our civilized society

Our freedom of speech and freedom of expression are fundamental rights of human beings. And without them, we wouldn’t be able to live together peacefully and cooperatively as a society.

It is effectively where our democracy and modern society are based upon, and it strengthens the capacity of an individual trying to take part in the decision-making. Furthermore, it allows society to develop and to become even better than it was before.

People are different

Picture showing a woman saying 6 and a man saying 9.

Our personal views mean we can sometimes offend other people who don’t think like us. Some people might also tell the harsh truth instead of practicing tender love and care. Because, as you probably already noticed, people differ greatly not only in looks but also in personality. People have different thoughts, ideas, and even values.

If we’re going to censor what thoughts and ideas one can voice, then that will end in a disaster. Speaking your truth means you’ll have to risk offending some people. And since people are so different, it’s inevitable.

We know that each individual has their strengths and weaknesses, thoughts, and ideas. Thus, it is only natural that we don’t all think alike. Not to mention, what a boring life it would be if everyone would think and act in the same manner.

To get to the truth or reach a consensus

Illustration showing one row of people waiting in line for the “comforting lies”, while nobody is waiting in line for “unpleasant truth”.

We need to risk being offensive to lay bare our interpretation of the truth and to come to an honest understanding of each other.

My truth might not be your truth. But at the very least, we can come to a better understanding of each other, which will help to reduce conflict in the long run. Both verbally and physically. Who knows, we can even reach a consensus. And if not, a compromise.

This also allows ideas to blossom and can serve as fuel for an interesting debate about what we consider the truth. We need dissenting voices to improve and develop as individuals and as a society.

Why is our freedom to offend in danger of being eliminated?

Political correctness

Illustration of a politician smiling with the word “obey” written in black letters above him.

Having the freedom to offend is becoming increasingly rare in our modern Western society.

Political correctness is running rampant, where socially accepted actions and thoughts prevail instead of the sometimes harsh truths of life.

People are getting canceled left and right for things that used to be ok to say in previous generations just for the sake of being considered offensive to a small minority of people.

Political correctness often gets normalized

I’m not saying that people who are genuinely harmful or intentionally trying to harm others shouldn’t be punished, but I think we need to be very careful with normalizing political correctness.

Just because someone tells us something we don’t agree with doesn’t mean we automatically need to make it so that person can’t voice their opinion. Or even that we should try to change that person’s thoughts and ideas into our own.

Isn’t the beauty in life exactly just that? The individual differences? The different colors or tints through which we perceive life and our surroundings.

Clout-chasing behavior is on the rise

The word “clout” written on the cover of some books.

I’m also not fond of the increasingly popular clout-chasing behavior. I think people are most certainly too materialistic for their own good in Western society. And clout chasing seems to go hand in hand with those materialistic desires. Some people are willing to forego any kind of decency and morals to gain popularity, money, or power.

In my opinion, there’s more to life than simply money, fame, or power. Some things like respect can’t be bought. And whether we want to admit it or not, those things matter a lot.

Even a lot of famous, extremely wealthy, and well-liked celebrities have commented about how depressed and unhappy they are. So materialistic wealth is not a guarantee for happiness. Although having enough money to live comfortably certainly does not hurt.

Cancel culture

Cancel culture symbol or cultural cancellation and social media censorship as canceling or restricting opinions that are offensive or controversial to the public with 3D illustration elements.

Cancel culture is also a prevalent thing these days. It means that people who don’t agree with the thoughts, and especially the ideas of others, regularly try to silence these individuals by bullying them into submission by attempting to cancel them.

And since a lot of people take offense at the slightest thing, this can become a frequent, toxic behavior.

They attempt to silence others. Not only by canceling their work but also by attempting to hinder their overall ability to live a normal life.

Group identity taking precedence over individual identity

If we punish people who we consider offensive, then that means that group identity is paramount and more important than individual identity, which is a surefire way to get into trouble and turn our democracy into an authoritarian society.

In identity politics, it doesn’t matter who you are, the only thing that matters is the group you belong to. Needless to say, this is malevolent and undesirable.

Taking things too personal

Image of a finger pointing at a single human signifying his personal responsibility.

Another problem is that people often take things too personally. It seems that everything, no matter how small and insignificant it might be, offenses someone.

More importantly, these days, things frequently get blown way out of proportion through social media or by the television. Although, I think that people who habitually do this are frequently projecting their insecurities and inadequacies onto other people. Some might also use it to mask their attempts to seek attention.

We do need to figure out if we want a society full of snowflakes who get hurt and offended by every little, trivial thing that doesn’t suit their goals or vision. I don’t believe that’s beneficial to anyone, and it’s not how life works either. Life is tough and harsh. And yes, good things are going on as well. But people get sick, people grow apart, and eventually, we all die.

Being able to express thoughts and ideas that might be considered offensive or that deviate from the norm might be an important medium to solve problems through energetic debates. This ability and freedom of expression might help to prevent violent, physical interactions.

Of course, it’s also vital that everyone learns to not take things too personally, especially when it’s often not meant that way.

What is considered offensive changes depending on the individual judging

What is deemed offensive or not changes depending on the person who’s currently judging.

This is why it’s dangerous to put government policies on freedom of expression, and is exactly why the right to offend shouldn’t be touched.

In my opinion, our diversity is one of the beauties of life, but will also be one of the reasons why it will remain a constant problem in society.

Because we will always be different from each other and thus, we will never think the same. This means that everyone will take offense to different things and at different rates.

Why the freedom to offend should not be misused

Image of someone protesting with the sign reading, “I disagree with my opponent's positions but support their right to express them freely.”

Of course, this freedom to offend should not be used as an excuse for intentionally trying to hurt people, even if it is the truth or your perceived truth.

Your words have unbelievable power behind them, so use them wisely and not lightly. The truth should be used to improve people’s lives, and the intent and manner in which you tell them what they might not necessarily want to hear is of great importance.


Illustration of a microphone and the words “speak up”, coming out of it.

The freedom to offend is a basic human right that every individual possesses and that we should guard with our lives.

That doesn’t mean that one should be offensive just for the sake of being polarizing. There are limits to our rights, and misusing them can lead to punishments such as monetary fines, and even prison in extreme cases. Realize that your words can be extremely powerful and thus, can also be used to hurt other people.

Sometimes, our thoughts and ideas will clash with others. But, without free speech, we would not be able to reach a consensus which could lead to the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Learning how to not get offended easily is something everyone should do to improve their own lives, but also that of those around them.