“To feel offended is a choice we make. To be easily offended is the sign of an undeveloped person.” My friend Jorge said this out of the blue earlier this week.
We had decided to take a walk on the Riverfront Trail to enjoy the break in the weather. Along the way, we noticed that somebody had carelessly discarded their Burger King trash on the brand new concrete surface near the brand new bridge. Jorge said that he felt a twinge of disgust that could have led to feeling offended. He noticed his feelings of disgust escalating. Jorge then paused to let go of disgust. That’s when his pearl of wisdom simply popped into his head.
Whoever carelessly threw away the garbage probably couldn’t have cared less about Jorge’s sensibilities. The litterer doesn’t even know Jorge, he or she was simply acting in a mindless manner. This mindlessness was perhaps enabled by the total lack of any trash bins anywhere along the trail. The sight of the soggy fast food bags and containers was a reason to request that the city parks department should consider placing trash bins along the trail. The garbage was not a good reason to choose to feel offended.
We human beings can be deeply insecure, touchy animals who are easily offended. This fact is at the root of the new, fashionably, insulting word, “snowflake”. It is frequently used to accuse others of being easily offended. “Snowflake” is frequently used by politically triggered individuals of all persuasions when they are at the ends of their ropes during quarrels over hot-button topics.
It is easy to choose to take offense about something or another. Taking offense gives us a quick fix of moral indignation that gives us a superficial feeling of meaningfulness. Taking offense can make us feel more fully alive much like certain drugs like amphetamines, nicotine, and caffeine can do.
What we fail to realize, is that like stimulant drugs, taking offense is a way of giving away our personal power. When we feel moral indignation, our thinking actually becomes less clear. Our attachments to certain views become more rigid. Being offended brings with it the risk of becoming more close-minded. Instead of being willing to understand others, we double-down and become even more narrow-minded.
Jorge observed that just as certain stimulant drugs stunt physical and mental growth, taking offense blocks intellectual and spiritual growth. Moral indignation also hinders social growth as well. It’s smart to remember that when you give away your power, others will use it to their advantage.
Then there is the question of skillful speech and actions. Being aware of the dignity of others remains important. A person who is becoming personally developed is not only mindful about the trap of taking offense, she or he is careful not to cause harm by deliberately speaking and acting in ways that hurt others. We can remind ourselves this way: Take no offense and give no offense. Like many one-liner bits of pithy wisdom, this is not as easy as its simplicity implies.
Something author Salman Rushdie said sticks in my memory. “If you’re offended, it’s your problem.”