Don’t get offended

Every single day life presents us with many opportunities to be offended.

There is a Swahili proverb:

“The person who threw the stone quickly forgets, but the person who got hit on the head remembers forever.”

Feeling offended is deeply connected to the ego; its need to be right and the energy it releases, and how, in a pointless and harmful way, it makes us “feel good”.  We sacrifice our priceless sense of peace for the worthless and empty bauble of being right.

Feeling offended has for many become a way of life especially on the internet. It seems nowadays, irrespective of what is said, that there is always someone who will shout out about how offended they feel. Just reflect for a moment: it is impossible to live in a relatively free society without experiencing the points of view that will clash with our own. A free society protects our right to free speech which will inevitably sometimes offend. Freedom of thought also gives us the right to choose whether or not we are offended. Allowing offense is a vital part of a free and functioning democracy. To live in a democracy and to demand to never be offended is frankly absurd.

This is the critical point: getting offended is a choice. We cannot avoid inconsiderate or combative people but we can choose how we respond; we can choose whether or not we are offended.

Examples of extreme offence and the extreme consequences are there in the news: the Iranian or Afghanistan women killed or tortured for the offense of not covering their hair, or simply seeking an education. This extreme form of taking offense appears in all religions, when they have great power.

This is why mindful presence in your life is so important; it gives the space to choose a response that conforms with your values, rather than simply reacting unconsciously in autopilot mode. The world is full of people launching their arrows of offence from their bow of anger, pain or impotence. Taking offence is rather like finding the arrow on the ground and stabbing yourself in the chest with it; then blaming the other person. All rather pointless!

Many years ago I worked with a guy who I initially admired. I felt that by collaborating we might achieve some worthwhile goals, but his habit of becoming offended and angry over the most minor and surprising things made me move away from him. Whatever initial influence he had with me disappeared. This is the other aspect of feeling offended; you lose whatever influence you might have. Feeling offended gives us the illusion of power, whilst in fact reducing it.

The most important thing in my life is the peace in my heart. I try not to allow random encounter with for example rude people take away my peace.

A person who takes offense frequently is a person permanently angry. This is a terrible state to be in. We all want to be happy and avoid suffering. Being angry is the opposite of this. This is a sad state of affairs which warrants our compassion.

Over the years Rhea and I have three phrases that we use to remind ourselves to not be offended.

  1. I choose to not be offended: This seems obvious but serves as a reminder that being offended is a choice. The person in front of you right now might be offensive. Your response is always your choice.
  2. What other people think of me is none of my business: My experience of life is that their will always be a minority that will always think you are great; another minority that will always think you are crap. The rest (the majority) simply do not care. If someone is seriously trying to harm you, then you should take steps to defend yourself; but this process does not have to include a feeling of offense.
  3. No one has the obligation to conform to my expectation: Offense grows in the space between what we expect and what happens. When we are offended what we are really saying is, “That person did not behave how I think he should; therefore, I’m offended”

      Remember, being offended is your choice. Between the event and the response there is always a moment of choice.

I leave with these words from Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

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