I don’t know when we began giving power to strangers. I think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Maybe we watched too many Westerns during our formative years, learned from those steely eyed men in saloons that what strangers think about us is worth a gunfight.
Nowadays the extreme version happens in city traffic. Someone shoots someone else a bird. Next step is an exchange of gunfire.
Here’s how the scenario runs:
Some complete stranger pronounces a bias we don't share.
Our thought response:
“This offends me.”
That thought process is driven by a deeper one:
“I want to be offended. I give this stranger the power to offend me. I assign enough value to what this stranger says, or believes, to allow it to trigger a negative emotional path within me. What this stranger says or believes matters.”
We know better.
Strangers cut too wide a swath in their traits to have any real value. They span the breadth of potential human biases. But even knowing this we give them the power to ruin a moment.
I say this is a recent phenomenon because humans of the past behaved differently. Our forefathers didn’t care what Brits thought about us because they recognized that Brits live within an entirely different set of interests.
Even today a Zuni doesn’t care what a Navajo thinks about anything because from the perspective of a Zuni, Navajos don’t have anything valid to contribute to any meaningful discussion. Navajos live in a different reality from Zunis.
Both Navajos and Zunis choose to allow themselves to be offended by the opinions of Anglos and Hispanics, but there’s a reason. They’ve found taking offense is a means of gaining power over those groups.
But neither a Zuni, nor a Navajo would bother being offended by the thoughts and words of the other because to each there’s nothing the other might think that carries the weight of validity.
Not long ago the same was true of people almost everywhere. The people in the town where I was reared cared about the opinions of people within that town, but they couldn’t have cared less what the people in Clovis, twenty miles away thought. It was generally understood that Clovis people were stupid and might think and say anything.
Today we care what everyone thinks about almost everything. We pretend to believe what they think carries value, but we know better. We just like the feel of being offended..
Make my day, Stranger! I'm handing you the power to offend me.
This leaves me cold.
Human opinion hasn’t held up well under scrutiny. It’s worth about what it costs. Mine aren’t that reliable and I haven’t found those of others to be any better.