The best way to shut down a discussion is to become offended.
Taking offense halts the distribution of ideas, and further interactions are clouded by one or both parties trying not to cause further offense, or steeling themselves against perceived onslaught.
And that’s the issue: the onslaught is perceived, not legitimate.
An insult about our religion, politics, families, opinions, or some other aspect of ourselves can seem like a truly heinous act in the moment, but ask yourself: is it really? Is there any real harm done by someone using foul language in your presence, or questioning your faith? If someone disparages your mother, is any harm done (to you or your mother)?
No. Of course there isn’t. For offense to be taken, there must be two parties involved. The person who decides whether or not it’s an offense is the one on the receiving end.
I’d like to propose something here. The next time you have the opportunity to be offended, don’t.
It seems like a simple enough concept, but all too often we sit and wait for an affront so that we can scowl with righteous indignation and wait for apologies or sympathies. It’s a sort of high, really, whether or not any apologies or sympathies are forthcoming.
But what will not result from such an exchange is new knowledge or new perspectives.
It seems like we can’t discuss religion or race or government without someone immediately playing the ‘I’m offended!’ card, at which point conversational participants are forced to tip-toe around any real issues, afraid of being labeled prejudiced or anti-something. It would seem the best way to offend someone (and get away with it) is to first take offense yourself, and this is a tactic used and used again in all public discourse.
It’s difficult to control what talking heads say to each other in the forum, but we can control our own interactions. Instead of gasping in shock the next time someone says something that offends you, continue the discussion. Learn why they feel that way, and why you feel differently.
In all likelihood no indignity was intended, and though you may not walk away with anything new, you may find yourself able to see things from a slightly different angle from that point forward. That is a massive advantage in life.
You may not agree with them afterward or learn anything new, but you might, and it’s worth the gamble: that’s exactly where you would be if you got offended.
Update: February 22, 2017
I’ve also found, after maybe five years of applying this idea consistently, that it’s a huge weight off your shoulders. Not feeling the need to defend yourself or wondering whether you should get upset frees up a lot of mental bandwidth and detaches your ego from a lot of frivolity.