This may come as a shock to some of you, but I’ve always been one of those people who feels our society is a little too offended. We are offended if someone doesn’t hire us, if they don’t like us, if they say something that hurts our feelings or makes us feel guilty, if they don’t agree with us, or like where we are from. We are offended by the wording on shirts, billboards, religious organizations, and political forums. We are offended our child didn’t make the team, that we were not invited to the office happy hour, or that someone makes an off color joke. It seems that as a society we are more and more offended and, honestly, it often appears that we are a bunch of toddlers crying that we didn’t get our way.
Do I think that people say things they shouldn’t? Most definitely! Do I often shake my head at others behavior or choice of clothing? Yes, I do. But is that the same as being offended by it. The simple answer is no.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of offend, in its transient form, is “to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done.”
The operative words here are “to feel.”
Someone is offended when they feel hurt or angry. It is their perception of the words or actions.
We can react certain ways based on our past experiences, our temperament, or what is being fed to us daily (media, life in general, environment, etc.). Each of us responds in our own way to the situations and words that are thrown at us. And, for many of us, how we respond can be different depending on where we are in life. I might respond one way to something one day and differently, to the exact same thing, on a different day.
We are taught in today’s society to not be offensive. But the reason behind it and the consequences for it are where I have issues. People have to chose to not be offensive, not be forced to not be offensive. Let me explain.
We cannot dictate what others feel or how they express themselves. Sure, you can berate them, call them names, ostracize them, or shun them because they act in a way we don’t like or the way society expects, but are we really changing them? If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it is that we cannot change others by force.
What we can do, however, is create a change by modeling how it is done. And, that doesn’t mean crying about how I feel about how others treatment (although I know I’ve done it in the past…we are all human). I have found that as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser…hahaha), my experiences and my interactions with others have shown me how much words can hurt. And I’m not just talking about the obvious hurtful phrases that often come to mind. I’m talking about the small, socially accepted ones we often don’t think affect anyone.
“You’re next. When are you (getting married, having a baby, getting that job)?”
“Wow! All girls. I bet you wished you had a boy?” (I literally just read an article on this and how these words even affected the daughters in the family).
“I just don’t understand why you didn’t leave.”
“It’s simply not natural.”
“You really need to get your life together.”
“She’s an addict. How does she think life is going to work out?”
“Maybe if they tried harder they wouldn’t be struggling to pay the bills.”
And the list goes on and on. Our words do matter. And I believe that if we all just take a step back and try to see things from another human’s perspective, we might put a few moments of thought into the words we use. Until you have walked in another’s shoes, you will not know what they have been through, what has brought them to where they are, or what struggles they are dealing with.
Instead of being offended and trying to force a mentality of acceptance, or trying to censor people’s words, what if we simply modeled what kindness and respect look like.
I once had a friend say to me “I have to understand your opinion before I can respect it.” Needless to say, we are no longer friends. She was unwilling to simply take me for who I am and needed me to agree with her ideology 100%.
In reality, we do not have to understand or agree with others to show them kindness and love. We do not need to have the whole story to respect the choices of others in their life. We do not need to be able to be able to grasp others decisions (past or present) to show them love. A word of kindness goes a long way. Acceptance goes a long way.
Don’t let the beliefs and views of others offend you. You do not have to make room in your life for those who do not accept you for who you are. And the next time you find yourself not understanding a person’s situation, think about how your words would feel if you were receiving them. You don’t have to understand, but you can educate yourself. There is a lot of information out there nowadays.
Together we can create a more loving world, one word and one action at a time.