How to Never Ever Get Offended Again (If You Don't Want to)

The other day I was scrollin' on through my news feed on Facebook when I came across a notice that a friend of mine liked this image:

Image posted on Facebook page titled Right Wing News

Offensive, right? I'm supposed to be offended? Well, only if I'm a homosexual man or an LGBT-friendly person or a woman or a feminist (male or female) or a fan of logical argument or a gun-owner who doesn't subscribe to stereotypes or a PERSON who doesn't subscribe to stereotypes or somebody with the slightest inkling why a gun might reasonably make a person uncomfortable or a reader who thinks that a meme should at least be funny if that's what it's clearly intended to be. 

Those possibilities notwithstanding, there was no danger of my being offended.

After thinking about this thing for a bit, however, I concluded that the meme was not offensive. It was just dumb. Then I got to thinking about the nature of taking offense in the first place. What does it mean to be offended?

It seems to me that whether or not a person takes offense (experiences resentment, anger, displeasure, wounded feelings) has a lot to do with both that person's awareness of his or her faults, his or her strength of ego, and the strength of his or her convictions on matters of morality, social rights and wrongs, etc.

Here's what I mean:

If a person says something to me that leaves me feeling insulted, I can react in two primary ways (internally, that is; there are infinitely many ways I could react outwardly as an expression of how I've decided to react internally).
  1. I can decide that what the person said is true, based on what I know of myself
  2. I can decide that what the person said is not true, based on what I know of myself
That is not the end of the story, of course. I can be upset that somebody said something to me that is not true. In this case, the person is unaware, unperceptive, dishonest or is lashing out. All of these possibilities have to do with the nature of the other person. There is no reason for me to internalize the issues of another person.

Alternately, I can be upset that this person said something that was true that I didn't want to think about or was hoping nobody had noticed. In this case, what the person said was not offensive. What he or she said was unpleasant to face.

I can be upset about the way the person chose to express whatever was expressed. This is the nearest thing to being offended that makes sense in my mind. Again, however, a person's lack of sensitivity or tact or kindness or manners speaks of that person, not the recipient of the person's uncivil communication technique. And what I am feeling seems more accurately described as hurt, not offended. 

This all came into focus for me a few years ago when a person said some unflattering things about me in a semi-public way. It smarted at first. I didn't like being described or even thought of in the way this person had described me. But after some reflection, I decided that part of what was said was true, and while I disagreed with other parts, I did not think it unimaginable that the speaker's perception of me was honestly expressed, based on that person's limited exposure to me. I felt momentarily annoyed, yes, but taking offense would have been a reaction unworthy of my own ability to face truth, on more than one level. And even if the person was just trying to be mean, it's on that person to live with what life as a mean person looks like (and we ALL have our mean moments; I'm no exception).

What is the point of expressing offense, anyway? Is one looking for a retraction? Is one looking to change the expressed opinion of the speaker/doer? To say one is offended seems like plea of sorts: "Stop saying things I don't like to hear," "Stop saying things I don't agree with," "Do or say something that will make me feel better."

How much happier all of us would be if we just took responsibility for our own feelings and didn't ask such things of others.

Of course there will always be people who live to claim they're offended--who take offense at the slightest of so-called "slights." These people will not be calmed or dissuaded or talked off the ledge. That's clear. And my argument isn't for them.

My argument is for people who like to find happy places in their lives and stay awhile. They enjoy feeling that they are not easily ruffled, their equilibrium not so easily messed with.

On the personal front, I believe: a person who has dedicated time and energy to understanding herself, who is aware of her faults and misgivings and weaknesses/lamenesses and the motives behind the things she does, who is comfortable in her own skin and forgiving of her own and others' imperfections can never be offended by something said to/about her regarding her actions or her character traits.

But what about impersonal matters? The gun-lovin' meme I posted above is not about something personal. Not to me, anyway. So it's a question of whether or not I'm going to give some random, anonymous meme-maker enough credit to find his/her opinion offensive.

For me, whether or not to take offense on at-large matters outside of the personal realm comes down to this:

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: No. I know with conviction it is not true or I am reasonably comfortable with the belief that it is not true. I am not offended because somebody has simply said something untrue.

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: Yes, it is true. It was not offensive to hear the truth. It was uncomfortable. The feeling I am left with is undesirable. I will think about something else or I will revisit my beliefs on the subject to see whether or not they are in need of revision.

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: I'm not sure. I don't like what was said, but I can't say for sure whether or not there is truth to it. It is not right to take offense because I have not devoted enough serious thought to the matter. But I am uncomfortable enough that I know I need to think on it some more. (This is not to say that one should take offense once one has devoted serious thought to the matter...my thought is that when one decides to devote serious thought to matters in general, taking offense may be an action that feels wasteful of his or her time and energy.)

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: Yes, it is probably true, but I don't like they way it was said. It was expressed unkindly and disrespectfully and I take offense to it. (Fine. Be offended if you will. Be hurt. Feeling this way cannot always be avoided. An alternate choice would be to think, 'What an ass,' and be done with it).

So on impersonal matters, like opinions about societal issues expressed in a public realm, I believe: a person who is confident in her beliefs and stances and who understands the complexity of human affairs and who knows there is little-to-no likelihood of billions of people from different perspectives coming to consensus can never be offended by something expressed in a public realm about a societal issue. 

And this is not to say there aren't important times for calls to action. If whoever subscribed to the position expressed in the above meme were going around pistol-whipping homosexuals, something would need to be done. But clicking and cutting a pasting and posting does not warrant enough of a response for me to take offense. I've already spent more time contemplating the thing than I should have. But I use it as an example and to illustrate a point.

Working in customer service (especially in behind-counter/desk roles), I am often in the situation where I'm trapped listening to somebody's spiel about something and I am not at liberty in my job role to respond with my own opinion. Smile And Nod is the unspoken official policy. It's nauseating at times, but it's gotten me into the practice of letting things roll off my back. I've found that the less time I spend dwelling on something another person said that irritated me, the happier am.

I'm starting to think one of life's greatest lessons is about spending as little energy as possible in an annoyed state. And it's not about burying one's head in the sand and pretending all is well when it isn't. It's about knowing what edifies versus what chips away at one's soul/sense of well-being.

I am not an unfeeling robot and I don't live in an unaffected/unaffect-able bubble. Things definitely get under my skin. But as I get older and my priorities shift, those moments are briefer and are felt less acutely. I eventually realize I'm more bothered with myself for being bothered than I am insulted, outraged, offended. 

Because here's the thing about taking offense: when you take offense, you allow somebody to have control over how you feel. You've effectively said that another person's words or deeds are more potent than your own sense of self or strength of convictions.

Why hand over that kind of power?

Kevin's Sketch

Mitral Portal.

Inspired by the amazing mitral valve of the heart, and specifically one from an amazing human being named Karl Konrad, whom just had his mitral valve repaired. I wonder how many times this valve has opened and closed in Karl's big heart so far, and with the aid of technology, how many more times it will now be able to open and close in his lifetime. The mitral valve, being so crucial to life itself, appears so strangely delicate and fragile- it's amazing to me that all this organic machinery operates within us every moment we are alive on this Earth, yet we are hardly aware of its existence in our very own bodies! Thank you Karl, and here's to a healthy heart of yours.


  1. Nice post. To clarify, the insult of the meme wasn't that he was gay, she was insulting his manhood and implied he was a woman. It's funny because when I read the word "guns", I thought it meant her biceps.

    Coach John Wooden is quoted as saying "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

    So many suicides and depressive teenage moments could be averted if people put less weight into what other people said and more heavily weighted their concern on the truth of the matter.

    1. George, I hadn't even thought of that meaning but it's just as bad! By the way, are you sure about that?

      I like that quote and I agree with your thoughts. This is a lesson I wish I'd learned a long, long time ago and which I wish it were easier to teach to young people. Better late than never, though.