It is impossible these days to be a university professor and not be accused of offending someone. Offensiveness is now regarded as a synonym for disagreement. I recall presenting to my class a distinction that psychologist Abraham Maslow made concerning two types of cognition. “Deficiency cognition” (D-cognition) occurs when an object is experienced partially or incompletely. “Being cognition” (B-cognition) occurs when an object tends to be seen as a whole, unrelated to anything else. Professor Maslow, so I thought, had made a rather innocent distinction.

At the end of class, however, a student stormed up to my desk. She was indignant and hot under the collar. “I am offended,” she said in a raised voice. Apparently, she saw herself as a D-cognition person and did not want anyone to remind her that there was something better. Of course, neither I nor Maslow was stating anything that was offensive. But the idea in the mind of my complaining student that she might be inferior in some way rattled her.

I was a member of the steering committee at that same Catholic university and suggested that we begin future college council meetings with a prayer. The atheist member of the committee strongly protested, stating that opening a meeting with a prayer would be hypocritical, provocative, and offensive. When tolerance is low, being offended becomes inevitable.

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