If someone shoots me in the chest or kicks me in the face or steals my car, I can point to a place of injury. I would have a hole in my chest or missing teeth or no way to get to work. A sound can damage my ear drums and a light can damage my eyes. A fire can burn my house down and a tornado can destroy my office.
These are all very real things, with real consequences.
On the other hand, I have trouble seeing where an offense harms us, yet we seem to place a great deal of value on not being offended.
We often think that our being offended requires someone else to change their opinion or beliefs or actions.
It is hard for us to demonstrate the harm we have endured from an offense, and I do not know anyone who has actually been damaged by being offended, but I know plenty of people who have had their day ruined, lost sleep, gotten anxious and become deeply entrenched in anger because something someone said or did offended them.They felt harmed by something that only exists in someone else’s head, and they allowed that to bring them suffering.
Now, things are different when a person’s opinions or beliefs become actions that bring concrete consequences onto others, and we have to address that. When someone enforces their opinion on us, we have moved beyond being offended, to being harmed, whether physically or in our employment or freedom of movement, whatever. We are no longer talking about offense. However, in these instances, being offended will do nothing for us. It is wasted energy.
But when we are talking about just being offended, we have to ask ourselves what has actually happened.
What harm has befallen us?
What has actually changed?
I want to be clear about one thing: I don’t disbelieve in the notion of taking offense because I think people need to toughen up. My not buying into my feeling of being offended doesn’t have anything to do with being bothered by other people being bothered, and it isn’t to complain that outrage culture has turned us soft or fragile.
It’s not about other people being one way or another.
It’s not about other people at all.
It’s about me.
I am just not willing to give an outside source control over my emotional state, and I am not willing to believe that someone can harm me by holding a belief or thinking a thought. I am not willing to be manipulated by someone else’s ideas, no matter how stupid or wrong I think they are. I am willing to talk with them or explain why I think their idea or belief is no good, but they don’t get to ruin my week or my day or even an hour of the limited time I have to live.
Just how much power are we giving away when we allow someone to offend us?
Why do we give people such tremendous power over us based on something that exists inside their head, and nowhere else?
Do you really trust the people who offend you to have control over your emotional state?
What have they done to earn that right?
What would happen if we took radical ownership of our internal state of affairs?
These are questions worth exploring, especially in our current social and political climate, no matter which side of things you tend to stand on.
A vast majority of people cannot be trusted with the key to your emotional state.
Don’t let them have it.
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I write, podcast and make videos about living in freedom through mindfulness, intentionality, compassion, and equanimity.
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