Offend yourself!

“What do you disagree with, but are willing to explore in order to learn new things?” – @irshadmanji


George Mason University grad student and Columbia University lecturer Roi Ben-Yehuda created a web challenge this past summer: for twenty-four hours, embrace an idea with which you vigorously disagree. In other words: #offendyourself 

In the video, Ben-Yehuda explains the reasons behind the challenge:

The world is complex, and yet we reduce it to narratives that avoid any nuance and any contradiction, and so we misunderstand reality. We belong to tribes, we belong to moral tribes, to ethnic tribes, to religious tribes, and those tribes tend to be ideologically homogeneous. It is these perspectives, and these narratives, and these identities, that themselves legitimize exclusion of the other, and violence towards the other, and make constructive dialogue within groups, and between groups, a lot less likely. Challenging an idea that the tribe shares collectively is quite risky. On the one hand, you have the risk of being unpopular, and the other extreme, you also have the risk of facing violence as a result of taking an unpopular perspective.

He argues that in order to engage with other people constructively, you have to possess two key qualities:

The first one is intellectual empathy: not just feeling with somebody else, but generously imagining what it’s like to think as another person. The second one is integrity, and by that, we mean not losing sight of your principles, your core principles and core values that anchor the worldviews that you hold.

If you just have empathy without integrity, you are an intellectual chameleon. If you have integrity without empathy, you’re dogmatic, you are rigid, you are unbending.

The goal of this challenge, which we’ll be engaging next week in Truth in Media, is to build intellectual empathy.  The purpose is not to change your views; it’s to engage the kinds of ideas, experiences, and perspectives that you otherwise purposefully or accidentally avoid.


The Challenge: For twenty-four hours, you’ll generously imagine what it’s like to be a person who embraces an idea with which you vigorously disagree. You’ll seek out information confirming this idea: articles, social media posts, videos, books, conversations with people. Entertain the idea; consider the experiences, traditions, and values that might inform the people who possess it. Perhaps explore the history or geography of this idea: when or where has it been popular? At the end of your twenty-four hours, post to your blog reflecting on your experience and new insights. Explain why you selected your chosen “offensive” idea. Share or paraphrase any informational sources you consulted during the challenge.


Criteria for your choice of idea:

  • Must challenge a belief shared by you and one or more of your social groups (peers, family, neighbors, etc.) because there should be a social risk associated with challenging this belief
  • Must have accessible sources confirming it (articles, blogs, videos, academic communities, etc.)
  • You should be able to explain in your blog post why temporarily embracing this idea will be an intellectually-worthwhile experience for you.

1 Comment on Offend yourself!

  1. Roi Ben-Yehuda
    October 17, 2015 at 1:47 pm (3 years ago)

    I’m happy to learn that you are using my video with your students. Would love to learn how it went. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.


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