Taking offense and being insulted have elevated into national pastimes. Find any article posted online anywhere and read (if you dare) the comments. You’ll find a flurry of, “I’m so offended at . . .” or “I can’t believe someone would write . . .” or “Once again, another insulting article has been published by . . .”
Everyone, it seems, has reason to complain about their feelings being hurt.
Either we’ve become a nation of martyrs, or we’ve never matured beyond 7th grade.
I’m inclined to believe the latter. Even if no offense is intended, someone’s bound to twist another’s words and intents like a pipe cleaner into some hurtful shape, then complain loudly that they’ve been hurt.
This weekend I read about a high school which sent home a funny-yet-instructive letter explaining how graduates should dress for graduation (sadly, such direction is necessary because many people don’t understand the word “appropriate”) and naturally there were many students and parents who found it “offensive,” “insulting,” and “shocking.”
Clearly the attempt at humor—written by a teacher who had since retired, suggesting that this letter had been sent out many times before and was never met with such anger—was meant to lighten the mood of what could be an awkward explanation as to why boys should keep their pants pulled up and girls should keep their “girls” contained at the graduation ceremonies. Why people should choose to be offended at reminders to be appropriately dressed truly baffles me.
I also read a post by a man who was overwhelmed by the effort some moms put into craftiness, and how other women feel they have to compete with often over-the-top productions. “Just. Stop. It.” wrote Scott Dannemiller, because he had observed his wife struggling with her assignment for the treat bags of the 1st graders. (Since when do 1st graders need elaborate and decorated end-of-school treat bags?)
And what did women write in response? Oh, I’m sure you can guess: “He’s openly sneering crafty moms . . .” and “Why is it acceptable to openly mock people?” and “What an ungrateful, hateful rant!”
Personally, I thought the article was hilarious. Yes, some women believe everything they see on Pinterest and feel obliged to conform. And yes, I’m a “crafty person,” but the author made excellent points—
Ah, there’s the rub, I think: We simply can’t abide another person’s point of view, especially if it may border on pricking our conscience.
The idea that maybe we might be wrong about something is . . . hurtful?
Or are we too prideful?
The opposite of pride is humility, and while people give that a negative connotation, what “humble” really means is “teachable”: recognizing that we don’t know everything yet, that we aren’t perfect yet, and that we’re WILLING to be open to correction and suggestions on how to improve.
Oh yes—that’s not ANYTHING our society wants inflicted on it: humility? Blech!
Instead we throw a fit when someone suggests we (or our children) are dressing, acting, or saying anything inappropriate.
Instead of checking ourselves to see if we need to improve, we whine and whimper that someone’s being “judgmental” and “offensive” and “hurtful.”
Instead of allowing someone their own points-of-view, on any matter (we are a free-speech society, in theory anyway), we cry foul and proclaim “They hate us!” and in turn become bullies to those whose opinions we refuse to allow.
Aristotle once wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
What he means is, let people have their opinions; you don’t have to affected by them at all.
But instead we choose to take offense at ideas that we fear threaten ours.
We don’t have to.
Look at that phrase: “Choose to take offense.”
First, it is a choice to be offended. I’ve known a few people who can manipulate the most innocuous statement to insinuate offense.
“She complimented me on my shirt today. Does that mean she thinks my shirt yesterday was hideous?”
“He said I could borrow his new lawnmower. Clearly he thinks my yard isn’t as good as his and I need his help.”
“She said I looked tired. What did she mean by that?!”
No one thinks as much about us as we think they do. Many of us learn that back in junior high when our natural narcissism makes us believe everything in the world really is only all about us. And unfortunately a lot of people get stuck at that phase, even as adults.
That’s the problem with “taking” offense; when we actively take (an action on our part) offense, we get stuck. All forward progress in our day, our week, our lives comes to a grinding halt because we stop and decide to fight what we choose to see as a personal attack on something we love to do or believe. Quite often that “attack” is nothing more than a weak perception on our parts that we overinflate to gargantuan sizes, and we lose traction and time pouting that someone hurt our feelings when 99% of the time no such thing actually occurred.
But occasionally a very personal, very sharp attack does come at us, fully intending to wound or even destroy us.
There are times when offense is clearly meant, and the aggressor stands there waiting for us to fight back.
Still, we can choose to take offense, or not.
Years ago I heard someone say, “Go ahead. Try to offend me. You can’t, because I simply won’t accept offense.”
The idea was astonishing to me, and one that I’ve tried to adopt myself. I’ve lived around people who chose to take offense at every little thing, and their lives were needlessly exhausting as they perceived attacks on every side.
However, not taking offense at anything—letting people say and do and imply whatever they want, and letting that mud fling past me instead of stepping into its path—has made my life abundantly easier.
On many occasions people have nervously said to me, “I hope I’m not offending you, but . . .” and what followed was nothing anywhere near offensive. (Usually they’re offering me and my large family their hand-me-down clothes. As a woman who hates shopping and spending money, it’s Christmas Day when those garbage bags are deposited at my front door!)
I smile and say, “I’ve chosen to never be offended by anything, so you’ve got to try a lot harder than that.”
But back to the deliberate offenses, the calculated attacks: Even then, we do NOT need to take offense.
The best example of this to me is that demonstrated by the musical “The Book of Mormon.” Yes, it’s won numerous awards, has grossed millions of dollars, has been received worldwide, and yes—it’s a deliberate attack on the beliefs and ideals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). We’re also known by the name “Mormons,” the name of the ancient author of the compiled book which is lampooned and mocked in the musical. The whole notion of missionaries and morality is parodied by writers who openly hate the Church and brazenly stole copyright names to turn all which we hold sacred into the profane.
Yet the Church has chosen not to be offended.
They’ve chosen not to fight.
They’ve chosen to step away from the mud flinging and simply go on with doing what they believe is right.
There are no lawsuits over the copyright infringements. There are no organized protests. There is no money or time or effort expended in wrestling in this muddy bath. Mormons have been persecuted before, to the point of theft and rape and murder. Compared to the horrors early members faced in the 19th century, a blasphemous little musical is nothing.
There are too many far more important tasks at hand, so the Church continues to focus on building its humanitarian efforts, churches, temples, and going about business as usual. I see the attitude of, “We’ll leave the judgments to God, and be about doing His work in the meantime.”
Well, I confess that wasn’t my initial reaction to the musical. When I first read about the production, I was furious. As a mother of missionaries, future missionaries, and married to a returned missionary, I panicked that such an outright mockery would damage the efforts of tens of thousands of sincere people.
That hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve read of several accounts of people who attended the musical, decided to contact missionaries to make fun of them, but ended up joining the Church instead. In every major market there have been critical reviews commenting that the musical is abrasive, offensive, and vulgar, and if it were directed toward Muslims instead of Mormons, jihad would have been declared on all fronts.
But all the Church said about the musical was this:
The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.
And that was it.
The producers of the musical state the Church is being a “good sport” about it, and blah, blah, blah, because what more can they do about someone who refuses to fight?
Frankly, I still hate the idea that the musical exists, and that people willingly pay ridiculous amounts to see Mormons and missionaries mocked. But I refuse to take offense.
In a fight, the one with the most power is the one who walks away from it.
“No one’s ever successfully insulted Rector Yung, because he refuses to be insulted. People do their best, but Yung won’t even acknowledge the attempt of an affront.”
–The Falcon in the Barn, Book 4
2 thoughts on ““Being offended” is not as admirable a trait as you may think it is”
Just reading your article in Mormon Times and my thought that I want to share but don’t see a place so it’s here in this article is that my son went to Iraq as a sniper in the Marine corps for ten years of his life…and no one is shooting at these missionary sons and daughters. It’s a lot of mollycoddling to me and very baffling when they say my baby as no one shoots at them daily and they don’t return with PTSD. I watched my neighbor tie yellow ribbons all over for her son last week who returned and expected us to all bring food, be at his talk and high five and not any notice of the service of these men and women who really were the first missionaries in Iraq and Afghanistan in our area from really anyone in the Church. I think it’s a lot of hoopla and creates that same malaise affecting many of my younger ward members…they have to have attention, credit, praise, a plaque, a trophy, a handout…to be motivated.
Allene, excellent points! If we’re going to “reward” all those who leave and return, we better pay attention to our service men and women who endure so much more stress in far worse conditions. I knew of one ward which invited the service members to speak before and after their tours, and their missionary experiences (and they had many) and the miracles they experienced (which were far greater) were incredibly moving.
I don’t know why we’re so selective about who we honor and why. When you think about it, God Himself didn’t “honor” anyone. He just served.