If you haven’t read or heard something offensive lately, then you may not be reading or listening to ongoing conversations on social media. Good for you if you have already learned to turn off the noise and stay focused on what matters most.
However, if you have any interaction with social media, then you have likely been subjected to a myriad of voices and opinions, some you might even find shocking or offensive.
Perhaps you have acquaintances, friends, or even family members that like to stir the proverbial pot! Some people really do like pushing people’s buttons, but many times, people just don’t know how to use discernment and often say things without realizing how offensive they have been.
I personally like to “check the pulse” of groups of people, both like-minded and contrary to my beliefs, to see what is happening in the world. What are people talking about? What critical issues have been brought to the forefront? What do the people around me believe? What do my loved ones feel strongly about? Where are we headed as a society?
I love our current ability to engage in nationwide conversations about issues that matter to the country, as a whole. I personally like to pray for others and so I look for those who are in need of prayers and support. I also like to spread light and hope to others.
While there are those I follow who enjoy the same, there are, sadly, plenty of others who seem to lose all inhibition from their comfortable place of anonymity behind a keyboard. Some will outright tell you to your face what they think of you or your beliefs, while others take it upon themselves to play the role of critic, judge, or social justice warrior, feeling the need to look for injustice (even where it doesn’t exist) and call people out for their perceived offenses.
How quickly we have gotten to a place where civil discourse is severely lacking in politeness and grace. In the current political and social climate, it is easy to make things personal and take or give offense.
But, truly, what purpose does that serve? The fruits of choosing to be offended are defensiveness, retaliation, victim mentality, and a total loss of propriety, none of which are admirable or helpful.
If you have a teen or young adult child, you know what I’m talking about. It’s so easy to take offense at their responses to your caring inquiries.
Before you take offense, though, first ask yourself these four questions:
Is it true?
Is there any truth to what they are saying? Are you judging others? Are you being unkind? Are you being selfish? Are you willing to be open and honest enough to examine your own opinions?
If we genuinely want to be open and honest, we have to begin with ourselves. We don’t need to judge ourselves harshly either, we only need to look honestly at what we are proclaiming and how we are behaving. If a change is necessary, let it begin with ourselves. We can’t hold anyone to a standard that we aren’t willing to uphold ourselves.
I think it’s also important to note that there is your truth, my truth, and the truth. THE truth is eternal truth. It always is and always will be. The sun shines in the sky every day is the truth. If you live in sunny Florida, that will be your truth much of the time. If you live in Alaska, that might not be your truth most of the time.
Things look different from different perspectives. I find it helpful to look at things from an eternal or Godly perspective. A pebble held right in front of my eye looks really large and impedes my view, but when I cast it to the ground, it’s so small, I can hardly see it.
Here’s another example.
If someone says something to you or about you that is simply not true, then it is enough to tell them is it not true. But if they refuse to believe you, then understand that it is their view of life that precludes them from seeing the truth. You have no control over that. Simply agree to disagree, wish them well, and move on. And if you choose to take someone else’s misperception personally, then you are simply looking to be offended. Look for underlying false or limiting beliefs that may be hidden beneath the surface. What are you choosing to believe that isn’t true or doesn’t serve you? You can’t change with others think, but you certainly have the power to change what you think!
Is it necessary to respond?
Often, those who make egregious statements and highly inflammatory remarks are literally trying to stir the pot and elicit an emotional response. They are trying to push buttons and gain the upper hand. They are looking for a way to catch you and make a fool of you. They don’t care about your feelings or even the truth. There is no winning in these kinds of interactions.
People see what they seek. Until they decide to look for the good, for the truth, or for a way to make a positive difference, you are just spinning your wheels, playing their game, and wasting time sparring with someone who doesn’t know better or doesn’t care. If they stopped getting responses, they would change their approach. This must work to some degree or they wouldn’t be doing it. Don’t play the game. No one wins.
Someone who is truly interested in the truth will be open to another’s opinion and will leave out harsh judgments and accusations. By all means, engage in respectful discussions. Be genuinely curious. But, the minute someone starts judging and throwing out accusations, just smile, excuse yourself, and move on. Choosing not to engage is a powerful choice.
Is it useful?
Being offended is never really useful. But, if we are willing to examine the thought with an open mind and looks for ways we can improve, then that would be useful.
This question is especially helpful for our own thought processes. Is thinking “I am fat” particularly useful? If it spurs you towards loving kindness and caring enough about yourself to change your eating habits or start exercising then, perhaps, it is useful. But, if the thought causes you to berate and condemn yourself and sink into depression or despair, then that’s not useful at all. Let it go.
If what you just heard is an uncomfortable thought, but after an honest examination, it causes you to admit you might be wrong or that there’s room for improvement, then it is useful.
Is it a reflection of me or of them?
What others say is a reflection of them … their experiences, emotions, and perceptions. What you say to others (including your own response to someone else’s words or actions) is a reflection of your thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
What others say and do is their stuff. How you respond to what others say and do is your stuff.
When you interact with others, you can choose to listen and acknowledge that you heard them, but you don’t have to accept what they are saying as your truth. In other words, you don’t have to take it personally.
People don’t always intend to offend. It is our choice to allow their words to matter to us. The easiest way to feel inadequate is to take what others say or do and give it meaning in our lives.
Even if someone truly does have negative intent, you still get to choose your response. You could ignore it, give them the benefit of the doubt, or address it confidently, without making it mean anything, OR you can choose an angry or hurtful response.
How to be sure?
Take a step back, create some distance.
Ask yourself what thought or emotion their comment brought up.
Did what they say just reinforce an insecurity within you? (remember, that’s YOUR stuff)
Can you REALLY be sure that an offense was intended? If you need to know, ask them directly.
Put yourself in their shoes. Is what they said a reflection of what is happening inside them? It may not have anything to do with you.They might truly just be having a bad day and you happened upon them at the wrong time.
If you’re in a place where you want to take the higher road, forgive them instantly and ask how they are feeling. Many times, they will feel sorrow for their behavior towards you. And they will know that they have a true friend in you.
Ultimately, choose to give others the benefit of the doubt. Everyone struggles. We all carry sorrows that the eye can’t see. Wish others well and go about trying to do good in the world. Be the change you wish to see in the world. This kind of change happens one person at a time. Start with YOU!