Do You Reserve The Right to Be Offended?

If you do, it costs you. Big time.

Would you be willing to give up the right to be offended by others and life for six months on a trial basis?

That commitment transformed a senior management team at a Fortune 100 company within less than 6 months. It allowed them to address issues with each other without childish affronts running the show and blowing up the conversation about more substantive issues.

News: there is rarely a situation in which being offended helps. Possibly it might do so in an honor-based community in which the members have a prior commitment to deal with each other honorably. In that case, an offense to honor pointed out by acting out the charade of being offended, followed by a pointed naming of the offense and a request for a specific kind of correction might just do the trick.

Usually, however, people are wasting their time getting offended and distancing themselves from the kind of connection that might work to resolve the so-called offending situation.

Let’s look at levels of waste of effort embedded in different kinds of “taking offense”:

It is possible for people to get offended when it rains on their day off and they were planning to golf. Given a few minutes thought, this can be seen to be a kind of insanity that springs from thinking that life ought to organize itself around your wants and preferences — a commitment life has apparently not made (or is so bad at keeping that you might as well not get offended when it does what it does, and that outcome either matches or doesn’t match your preferences.)

Then there are the times people get offended by other’s behavior toward them. It might be worthwhile to first assess if the offending action is personal –that is, directed at you personally, now, consistent with your current behavior and your history with the person. If not, if it isn’t personal, it is likely best not to take it personally, no more than if a dog barks at you as you walk by. The dog is bred and trained to bark. The person taking the “offensive action” is bred and trained to be disappointed in others, or to feel mistreated by others, or to feel diminished by others, or to feel the need to prove their superiority over others to cover a deeper insecurity, or whatever.

I am not saying there is never anything to do about the offending behavior. I am saying that you don’t have to be offended to do so.

The first thing worth assessing is whether anything good is likely to come of addressing the behavior. If not, let it be and move on. If so, assess whether you are willing to invest what it will take to have it turn out well. If not, move on. If so, have at it, and have at it as an interesting project about how people are put together and what it takes to develop new behaviors. That is at least worth working on.

If you do determine that a worthwhile outcome is possible, I’d advise taking on the specifics of the “offending” action or speech, asking if the outcome it produced was intentional, and if not, suggesting other alternative pathways of handling the situation. If the “offense” was intentional, see if you can find out what was driving the need to give offense. Better to work on the driver than the behavior. Generally there is some underlying sense of being misunderstood or diminished that can be easily resolved by giving a chance for understanding or for providing something bigger.

How would you like to do a 6-month experiment of swearing off being offended and see what it reveals about what being offended does and doesn’t provide to your life and to those around you?


About Ken Anbender

Kenneth Anbender Ph.D. has spent the last 50 years working with more than a hundred thousand people directly on the principles and methods that support the fulfillment of a human life -- in community and at work. He has developed a body of work that is licensable called The Contegrity Approach.
This entry was posted in Contegrity Principles, Resolving Misidentifications and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Do You Reserve The Right to Be Offended?

  1. Peter Sias says:

    In my recent work with folk been having them adopt Operationally Defining Completion as, without compromising oneself, living from/welcoming the story of their & others history from:
    + Hearing the “thank you” that will never be spoken
    + accepting the apology owed that will never be tendered
    + adopting the practice of Welcoming what occurs as insult as an opportunity to respond with Grace; to hear a bound-up plea for “Please walk with me for a moment in my striving to walk myself out of suffering”, as well as the call for probative courtesy.

    • Ken Anbender says:

      Much generosity here, Peter. Clearly better to make room for people to “walk out of suffering” than to stick them there. Clearly better to provide what you have to provide without undue demand that it be “deserved”.

      My version of the “thank you” and “apology” conversation is that it helps to be at peace with the fact that you will never be fully appreciated nor understood. Once that expectation is over, it becomes fine to be understood only as much as you are, and appreciated only as much as you are. This is another area that is more a measure of the state of human development and culture than anything personally having to do with what you are or aren’t doing.

  2. David Bigio says:

    One particular part of this….

    What do I consider “offended”? Almost anything that evokes ‘personal’ and elicits a reaction.
    One aspect is that it doesn’t even have to look like a ‘reaction’. If I hold that an area IS a particular way and don’t even question it, then anything not like that could be “offensive” to my view of things.. It can be as simple a being amazed that they don’t see it my way, to discounting them.

  3. Tony Putman says:

    Interesting, when you try such experiments, how quickly you notice that “being offended” is something you yourself add into the situation, like reflexively shaking salt over a dish that actually doesn’t need it.

  4. Jane Ellen Seymour says:

    I have come to see that offense is often either a “should” I have that is unexpressed or unreasonable (as in it more than likely steps way over reality – like your example of arguing the weather) or some relation to time that is off which is a “should” in it’s own right. There is something about giving up the offense in favor of a real listen for what is truly being communicated, what does actually want to happen, what is worth belonging to. Whole worlds open up from there. Not so much when I get hypnotized by the offense.

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