Why do we get offended? Why do the smallest things often cause deep offence in our lives? When someone says or does something that is contrary to our feelings or beliefs, we can ‘get bent out of shape’ for the day, maybe the week… or possibly the rest of our lives! If anger rules the day, we may become violent or threatening to ourselves and others – often innocent others! These incidents may bear results that simply can’t be undone! Not in this Age, anyway.
If we somehow feel superior to others, we can respond in ways that are demeaning or hurtful. That is cause for offense, for them and us. Very few people will agree with us all the time, even fewer will think we have a special angle on truth or wisdom. Frankly, who wants to live life like that? No one person is the centre of anything. We all exist in a community or family structure – if we didn’t, there wouldn’t be much chance of being offended (Although, some of us can even offend ourselves). We’re all part of a collective where the many contribute in ways that make our society stimulating and hopefully more mature… no one person is responsible for this, we all are at some level – we are all responsible for our little bit!
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.– Matthew 12:36
Let’s not focus on the very deep issues that do polarise people, even within whole nations, and cause them to want to exact retribution on those disagreeing with them. Let’s think about the everyday sights, words, and expressions that we see and hear which can cause us to recoil in shock, disgust, and react in an abusive, critical, or rude manner. To some degree each of us thinks we’ve got a monopoly on truth and the correct view of everything. Yes, others may be wrong – they may be very wrong – but we have an opportunity to be the bigger person and be tolerant and respectful of others’ right to voice or hold an opinion that differs from ours.
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.– Proverbs 29:20
When we take time to look deeply at the reasons behind another person’s words or actions, we often find their motives to be quite different from the ones we quickly assumed. Without trying to understand the other person’s viewpoint, we might take offence for the wrong reason… that’s not too smart, is it?
We might reckon some people’s humour is a bit warped; naturally, when compared to ours! We could say the same for other people’s logic, emotions, and so on. We all need to be tolerant of the differences between us; not taking them personally and not automatically somehow thinking less of those who are different from us.
There’s much to learn from others, if we were to consider that every person has something to offer. It might take a while to get into that zone, but there’s much to gain from this positive approach. We can always find things to disagree about…that’s easy! Every good action we might choose will challenge us, we must be contemplative and accept that it may be difficult at first. Look for clues that might advance healthy, relaxed communication. If this isn’t a natural process, get some ideas from the ‘experts’ in the field of communication and relationships.
Don’t dwell on the things that annoy, aggravate, or promote separation. A positive relationship would benefit all involved, while a stressful relationship is emotionally draining and a cause for anxiety and ongoing difficulty. We’ve got enough stressors on the planet already, why not flip a few?
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.– Proverbs 12:25
Value harmony more than insisting on our particular view. We’re all (allegedly) wrong some of the time, and hopefully, right some of the time. Let’s not get too stressed or pumped about the ratio.
Rather, what can we learn from people we meet; what can we learn from old friends? We can gain value and understanding from other people’s perspectives – even if they are wrong! Listen. There’s a sense that there’s a time for coming to understand the truth about something – are we the ones who get to set the timing? Probably not, maybe we get to plant only a seed of truth or understanding, and others will get to help it grow. If we’re focussed on getting the credit, we need to rethink our motives and who’s really in charge around here!
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.– James 1:26
Anyway, we could all probably listen better. While we’re getting our next comment or retort organised, we aren’t listening very well – if at all. By taking some time to respectfully listen – not just hear, but listen—we will gain a better understanding of the other person’s point of view, and perhaps the important reasons behind it. It’s ok to have a little silence as we pause to consider before responding. We’ll avoid rushing in with a half-baked response which will be further unhelpful and make us look a bit foolish as well!
When we listen better, we invite others to do the same to us. The less agitated the conversation, the more carefully constructed the point of view and the lower the chance of causing offence, or one of us taking offense. We can all grow to appreciate the true value of self-worth (not self-esteem, there’s a huge difference). It’s a vital key to avoiding the default response of taking offense when confronted with something we might strongly take exception to.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.– Colossians 4:6
If we do have something of value to share, our ability to positively influence others can be compromised if we show ourselves to be easily offended – we may be thought of as prickly, sensitive, and ‘high-maintenance’. Most try to avoid people like that and they are seldom sought for their opinions or advice.
When we communicate with sincerity and respect, with honesty and empathy, we will invite a deeper relationship to form and mature. Sure, we may still be at odds over some things, but that is secondary to the real purpose of getting to know each other – the person behind the words. We can then appreciate the other and for what each may offer – beliefs and viewpoints included. We all have our reasons for holding certain beliefs tightly. While we’re being defensive, we can expect others to be unwilling to alter their deeply-held views. Even if we do know better because of experience or training, the quiet, patient, respectful way with thoughtful dialogue has much potential. The shouting match with offensive, hurtful comments is another way that rarely, if ever, has good outcomes.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love… (read the whole bit in prayer.)– 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Some countries have passed laws which lead to severe penalties for those who offend others with their opinions on matters such as race, religion, gender, and age – to name a few. These laws are intended to help us recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, colour, circumstances, or beliefs. While such laws are intended to bring good, we need to remember that we can’t legislate love with law. We all need to consider our responsibility to contribute positive change in whatever community we are in. When we respond rationally, sensibly, and respectfully to conflict or discomfort, we increase our opportunities to:
- Learn. Every day we have a chance to learn something – mostly, it’s from someone else.
- Grow. We’re growing older everyday – let’s grow wiser too!
- Share. A problem shared is a problem halved – maybe even solved. Even if the problem remains, tackling it together can be a profitable time.
- Consider. What are we carrying around in our heads and hearts that we intend to ‘get even’ about? That’s baggage we don’t need!
- Resolve. Understand what triggers our reactions to others. Look for a better way.
- Delight. A thoughtful, respectful, polite, and engaging response might just turn a foe into a friend! How much better would that be?
There’s an old saying, ‘a kind word turns away anger’. Solomon put it this way: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
God, in His marvellous wisdom, has placed each of us according to His purposes. We, in His hands, have special roles to accomplish and succeed in – some are grand, some appear not to be. We all have words to speak, and may we, through His grace, choose carefully the words that reach another’s ears. And may our hearts think better of others than we do of ourselves. May our actions and responses to others be for the better and always point to the spirit of God dwelling within us.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”– Proverbs 25:11