How many changes have we made in our lives because we have taken offense at what someone says? Have our relationships changed? Our jobs, careers, church attendance? What about grudges? Do we still hold onto grudges or snap judgements because of something someone once said or did to us?
The reality is, being offended, much like being happy, is a choice. Being offended lies entirely within our power. Read on to learn how to sincerely say, “no offense taken”.
Act or Acted Upon?
We are not creatures to be acted upon, but rather agents of free will and choice. By saying “he offended me”, (much like the phrase, “she made me mad”), we are surrendering our free will. We are handing over power of our thoughts, feelings and actions to another individual.
As individuals who are free to act, therefore, we have to choose to be offended. Another person cannot compel us to be offended.
To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.”David A. Bednar
An Offensive Snowball
Oftentimes, a simple, rather trivial offense snowballs into greater, more lasting damage. Once we take offense at what someone says to us, we begin to catalog other offenses. Every look, action, even lack of action, becomes a source of contention. Or a way for us to support and underscore our righteous indignation, and hold on to our “well-justified” feelings.
Left unchecked, small offenses have the ability to not only alter the course of our lives, but the lives of countless others.
One such example lies in the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An early convert to the Church, Thomas B. Marsh, faithfully dedicated his life to the Church and rose quickly to positions of leadership within it. However, after a few years, an argument arose between his wife and the wife of a neighbor.
The two women had agreed to share milk from their cows to make cheese. However, the neighbor wife accused Marsh’s wife of keeping the rich, cream strippings of her milk before sharing it with her. The argument set off an extraordinary sequence of events that eventually led Marsh to swear out an affidavit against the entire body of the Church. This affidavit was used as a basis for an extermination order issued against Church members by the state of Missouri, which in turn led to 15,000 people being forcibly and violently removed from their homes, deprived of their possessions, and thousands to die from exposure and lack of food. All because of an assumed offense. (Read more here.)
The danger lies not with the one who gives offense, but on us, who refusing to be humble and forgiving, preserve and strengthen the offense until it causes greater calamity.
We all sometimes feel small, belittled, unimportant, and insignificant. Those are terrible feelings, and never ones we want to hold onto. However, ridding ourselves of those feelings should not be attempted through pride and anger. Pride and anger will only mask those feelings temporarily, not heal them.
In other words, don’t compensate for painful feelings, or justify inappropriate actions by holding onto “being offended”.
Remember that if, through great strength of character, we are able to choose to be humble, we are putting ourselves in the company of other great people, even the greatest of all to live among us.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all; art thou greater than he?”Doctrine and Covenants, 121:8
Instead of choosing to feel small, choose to be humble and put yourself in the company of He who is the greatest to ever live on Earth. It is only your burden you are increasing by holding onto past offenses.
The Benefit of the Doubt
We will never be able to control the actions of others. Family members, close friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers will provide us with plenty of opportunities in our life to be offended. The solution to not taking offense at the things others say and do, is to alter our perspective.
Often, things are said purely out of ignorance or without thinking. What we may take as offensive, simply isn’t meant to be offensive by others! This is where our choosing to be offended comes into play.
We are able to laugh and defend the naiveté of a child who innocently says something embarrassing or even hurtful because we understand their lack of guile. My favorite was when my three year-old son told me he likes girls because they’re “squishy”, as he snuggled up to me and patted my stomach.
Do we ever give adults the same benefit of the doubt—that they are speaking innocently and without intended insult?
“One of the greatest indicators of our own spiritual maturity is revealed in how we respond to the weaknesses, the inexperience, and the potentially offensive actions of others.”David A. Bednar
When Offense is Intended
What about those who we know speak with ill-intent? How do we not take offense to their comments? This becomes even harder when it is someone close to us, whose opinion we value, or when the malicious comment is targeted towards someone we love. What do we do then?
The advice I would give, is advice taught me (repeatedly) by my empathetic husband. We have no idea what the person who uttered those offensive words was going through at that moment. We don’t know if they just received devastating news, if they are facing financial peril, if their relationships are suffering, or they are fighting an unseen illness.
“He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”Brigham Young
Those may be some pretty harsh words of advice from Brigham Young, but honestly, wouldn’t we want others to give us allowance for our actions when we are coping with our private grievances? Do we offer the same allowance to others?
How to Rectify an Offense
If we are unable to forgive and forget: to allow someone the benefit of the doubt and move on from the potential offense given, what do we do then?
For strangers, for minor acquaintances with whom you have little interaction, I would say, do nothing directly with them. Obviously, you wouldn’t camp outside the 7-11, hoping to run into the guy who cut in front of you at the pump. But, strangers (and minor acquaintances) don’t know anything about you! If they give offense to you, it is a reflection of them, not you. If you hold onto the offense, that is a reflection of you.
“The feeling of being ‘offended’ is a warning indicator that is showing you where to look within yourself for unresolved issues.”
Bryant H. McGill
It may help for you to spend sometime reflecting as to why something is lingering in your thoughts. Why are you feeling offended by something fleeting done by someone of no significance in your life? Could it maybe be a reflection of an insecurity? Is it focusing a spotlight on a weakness you wish you didn’t have?
In those situations, allow those “offenses” to be opportunities for growth, personal forgiveness, and to rectify faults. Then, those offensive interactions with others will become hidden blessings…if our strength of character will allow it. 😉
Offenses from Loved Ones
With family members and friends, if the steps outlined above will not suffice, it is worth a conversation to rectify hurt feelings.
If, however, we approach the other from the defensive stance of “you offended me”, we are poking holes in our ship before ever setting sail.
Again, it is not someone else that causes offense. This negates the laws of nature that dictate that we are being capable of free will and choice. If we lay that responsibility at the feet of others, we surrender our will, our lives, and our happiness to them as well.
If your mindset is stuck in the “you offended me”, state, wait to have a conversation until your temper has cooled. Proceed only when you can give the other individual the benefit of the doubt that the offensive thing they said was spoken in a moment of unhappiness, or personal turmoil.
Approach the other with humility and with a goal of understanding, not the goal of making sure they knew they hurt you! Understanding will erase the hurt faster than any other avenue.
A Word of Caution
In our efforts to not be offended ourselves, let us not lose focus to not be the offender ourselves.
We are imperfect beings, who, like the student surgeon, work out how to interact, not in a simulation, but with other live human beings! This means we are learning–and making mistakes–on people with real needs and feelings, including those whom we love dearly.
While we need to try our best not to overtly offend others, we all make mistakes, or give offense unintentionally. It is our responsibility, then, to be humble and sincerely apologetic, when such an offense is brought to our attention. Just like we would want the other individual to be humble when receiving our own confidence, so must we be humble and gracious when we are made aware of our offenses.
Give apologies readily. Recognize the strength of character, and perhaps trepidation the other person possesses to approach you in the first place! That they brought up the incident with you shows they care enough that they want to preserve and repair their relationship with you.
Choose to forgive, ignore, and understand. Like water off a duck’s back, let offenses, unintentional and deliberate, go as quickly as they came. Living such will lighten your burden and increase your happiness every day.