Remaining in the background when things aren’t right isn’t right at all (Sneak peek into the prequel)

 

“You’re disappointed in me,” Pere concluded. “Well, it won’t be the last time, I’m sure. Being a commander, or even an adult, doesn’t mean we know always what’s right. We have to trust the nudges to do what we believe is right. And I think as long as you try to do the right thing, it will eventually turn out. It’s when you stop caring or don’t want to get involved and let anything happen—that’s when everything crumbles. General Stumpy was lazy and selfish. He allowed for all kinds of injustices and cruelty to flourish. The only example I have to follow is his; whatever he would do, I try to do the opposite. It’s all I’ve got.” ~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea

Too often I’ve publicly offended others who have come after me online–publicly and privately. And because I’m extremely non-confrontational (oh, how I wish I were like Mahrree!) I retreat, and decide to hide in the corner of my closet where I can never say or do anything stupid ever again.

Obviously I’ve not done well with self-banishment, because I’m still here. (Each self-imposed exile lasts no more than three days, because I can’t keep still.)

Lately, though, I’ve realized that retreat is selfish, feeling sorry for myself when I’m “picked on” is childish, and lurking in the background when things just aren’t right isn’t right at all. 

Someone has to say something; someone has to gently, kindly, firmly even stand up and say, “No. I cannot agree to this and will not submit to that.” Maybe because it’s the stories my parents told me of growing up in Nazi Germany are haunting me again, or it’s the examples of bullying and name-calling in the holocaust novel I teach my 10th graders, but increasingly I’m seeing the need for us to stand firm in our beliefs, to let people know what we think, and, if nothing more, demonstrate for others that we will not be intimidated.

Recently on a group discussion online I saw a woman relay something that happened in her church that alarmed her. She immediately wrote, “Not to say that this is wrong . . .” And honestly, I don’t know what she said after that because I HAD to write: “No, this IS wrong, and we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and say so!”

Immediately I worried that I might offend, but I thought, No–I shouldn’t be afraid, either! Within minutes the response to my comment was overwhelming–in the affirmative. Comment after comment said the same thing, citing scriptures to back up what incorrect thing had been allowed to happen in the church, and the original woman who posted finally chimed in, after 50 responses with, “Thank you! I thought this was wrong, but I just wasn’t sure and I didn’t dare say anything. But now I will.”

It’s when we stop speaking out, stop standing up, and worry too much about offending the perpetually offended, that’s when it will all fall apart. 

It may still all crumble someday, but not because we didn’t say something about it. 

But I don’t think so. I think there will always remain pockets of strength that will withstand the oncoming anger (and, I beginning to suspect more and more, a future civil war) because we will be standing strong together.

New prequel is now available! Click on the image below to get it on Amazon, or read it here.

Walls BOOK RELEASE1

What you should say to people who offend you

At a neighborhood dinner I sat by a woman whose daughter had just gotten married. Since my oldest was planning her wedding, the conversation naturally turned to expenses. I told her we were investing in buying decorations since we’d have more weddings in the future, and were trying to keep down costs by doing everything ourselves.

“Well, you have to do that,” she told me, with what seemed to be a haughty glance, “since you have so many children. I, however, have only one daughter, so my husband and I decided to show her just how important she is to us. We’ve gone into sizable debt for her wedding, but she’s worth it. When you have only one, you treasure her all the more.”

I was stunned silent. Was she insinuating that I didn’t treasure my four daughters? That I had too many kids to show proper attention to? That I was cheap?

Fortunately for both of us, more people joined our table, and the conversation mercifully shifted. I didn’t know how to respond to her insults.

Recently a friend asked how another of my daughters was doing, and I told her she was thrilled to have found a major in college that she truly loved. I said that she’d been struggling to “find” herself, and another woman who was listening in said, rather dismissively, “All of us struggle to find ourselves.” Her attitude of So your daughter isn’t anything special or important, hung thickly in the air.

Again, my inability to respond when I’m surprised kicked in, and I was silent. Fortunately.

As I’ve reflected on those exchanges–and many others when I perceived I or my family was being slighted–I’ve thought about what I should have said.

And always it’s the same.

Nothing.
When someone offends you, say nothing.

Because over the years I’ve discovered that when someone goes on the offensive, it’s because they’re feeling defensive. As I’ve written before, no one who is happy or content in their lives purposely go about offending people. And most of the time, offenses aren’t intended; they’re accidental.

But when a slight is intended, I’ve discovered that it’s caused by pain. Something about a situation triggers pain (or fear, or anxiety) and the reaction is to defend one’s self with a deliberate offense. A pre-emptive strike, if you will.

While I heard the snideness in the remarks, I also heard the pain lurking underneath.

For example, the woman who suggested I didn’t spoil my daughter enough always wanted six children, mostly girls. That had been her dream since she was a little.

She got one daughter, and two sons, after a lot of costly medical intervention.

The fact that I had four daughters, and that I inadvertently reminded her that I effortlessly achieved the dream she never could awakened her pain.

Same with the woman who flippantly dismissed my daughter’s found happiness, because her own daughter had tried to “find” herself, and found drugs instead, then found herself in jail.
While my daughter found herself admitted to a competitive college program.

I heard that woman’s pain. I heard her undertones of, “It’s not fair.”

I agree, it’s not. Not that I live an enchanted life by any means. I could have countered with claims about our family’s anxiety and depression issues, or our financial stresses, or any number of other trials to prove that yes, I feel pain too!

But trying to trump someone else’s pain with detailed claims of your own never works. You can’t conquer pain with more pain. There are no winners in the “my experience is worse than yours!” battle.

Over the years I’ve tried to listen for the pain, or fear, or quiet whimper of, “It’s so unfair!” when I hear a remark that could be considered offensive. It’s always there, in the background.

Whenever I’m tempted to hold a “I’m so offended!” party, I try to invite Compassion and Empathy to show up first, so that they can trample my Arrogant Ego before it goes off on a drunken rampage. Because despite the term, there’s nothing “righteous” about Self-Righteousness.

offended party

This past week I’ve analyzed “offenses” in the news and social media, and looked for the pain or fear beneath it. From the silly (think Starbucks) to the severe (think terrorism strikes, everywhere), folks are “offended” that we’re not doing things right: not worshipping enough, or worshipping too much; not empathizing enough, or empathizing with too few sufferers; not caring about others, or caring too much . . .

Everyone chooses to be offended. There’s nothing we can do about that, except choose not to take offense ourselves, and listen instead for the pain hiding underneath.

Yung squeezed her again. “If you’re worried that I’ll be offended by his reactions, don’t be.  Nothing offends me.”
~The Falcon in the Barn, Book 4

“Being offended” is not as admirable a trait as you may think it is

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?!”

Probably nothing!

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