three ways to avoid being offended

So, you’re walking down the hall of church or school or work and you pass someone. You smile. She walks right by. She completely ignores you. Why didn’t she smile? I mean, she must be mad. In fact, you begin to think about all your interactions with that person for the last week. Wasn’t she acting weird the LAST time you saw her? Now you think maybe she gave you a dirty look. Maybe she overheard that you didn’t invite her to your house last week. That must be it. She’s totally mad about it. You start to get upset. She doesn’t have the right to be mad! It was YOUR party! What in the world? Maybe you should send her an e-mail and tell her WHAT FOR. Just as you open your email to write her, you see a group email. Your friend? The one that seemed mad? She just lost her job. 

It had absolutely nothing to do with you.

Oxford Dictionary defines offended as “resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult“. Notice in this definition it uses the words typically and perceived. Typically means most of the time and perceived is basically what you make up on your own instead of the actual facts.

We all get offended sometimes. And I don’t know of many times it actually brings about a positive and productive result. Most of the time when I get offended, you know what the problem is?

I’m making it all about me.

I’m not considering all the other options. I’m centering the world around my own experiences, my own expectations, and the limited resources in my own mind concerning other people. I’m trying to read other people’s minds. I’m making things up. I’m coming to my own conclusions without much perspective.

Once upon a time I had a friend who was “offended” that her Secret Santa hadn’t given her any gifts. Later, my friend found out her Secret Santa had passed away from cancer. Ouch.

Let’s look at it this way. Let’s say I said, “Hello!” to my friend Bob and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. But instead of saying “Hello!” back, he punches me in the face. I’m immediately offended. But little did I know, Bob has a gaping, seeping, bloody wound under his shirt just at the place I patted his shoulder. It caused him lots of pain! Now, it doesn’t make it right that Bob punched me in the face, but it does explain his reaction.

It had absolutely nothing to do with me. There’s a pattern here.

One way to avoid offense is to realize that often, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. I’m not saying it’s the case all the time, but often it is. As a teacher, when I started realizing it often had nothing to do with me, I stopped taking things personally. Most of the time, if a student strikes out, it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with him, his home life, the way he’s feeling, or if he had breakfast that morning. We make things about us so much that we find ourselves offended, wasting energy on things that aren’t about us at all.

Another way to avoid offense is to stop making things up. The story that opened this blog is COMPLETELY something that everyone does, including me. As humans, we love stories – and we make up stories a lot to explain WHY. We want and NEED to know why people act the way they do, so we make up stories (check out Brene Brown for more information on this). If, in the first scenario, the person hadn’t let his mind wander to all kinds of crazy stories and solutions, then he wouldn’t have been offended. And maybe, just maybe, he would have been able to be a better friend to the girl who lost her job.

The final way to avoid offense is to gently talk to the person who offended you. Notice that I used the word gently. SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND. DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU. Start with Brene Brown’s amazing phrase, “The story I’m making up in my head is that you’re upset with me because I didn’t invite you to my house.” That phrase immediately diffuses the situation and doesn’t make the person defensive. It leads with the possibility that (gasp!) you might be wrong in your conclusion. It keeps the friendship safe and levies TRUST instead of ACCUSATION.

I think a lot of “I’m offended” situations could be avoided if we allowed people the same grace we’d like to be allowed. I know I make mistakes all the time. I’m a broken human being. But I also don’t want to live offended. It is not a happy place to be and it always leaves me feeling angry, lonely, and bitter. Certainly not the way I want to live my life.

I believe that I should live every day as if it were my last day. It’s my best day ever adventure mantra. If it were my last day, I wouldn’t want to be offended. I wouldn’t want it to be all about me. I’d want to deflect any opportunity to make up stories and talk it out with the people I love. That means avoiding being offended by playing a great offense without getting defensive. 🙂

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” – Brene Brown

In this beautiful life where Jesus gives me the John 10:10 promise – that He wants me to live life to the full, I can’t afford to be offended. It steals my joy. When something happens with the potential of hurting me, I can CHOOSE. Maybe I can’t choose if it happened or not, but I CAN choose how I respond to it. That is definitely my choice – and it can determine how I will live today and the rest of my life.

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