A couple of years ago I started to inform myself about basic psychological processes and how they influence our actions and thinking. Since then I have gained much better insights into my own and other people’s emotions and way of handling different kinds of situations. One of the main aspects I have been focusing on is the feeling of being offended or hurt. I have come to realize how poisonous and toxic this specific thought mechanism is: Somebody else says or does something which upsets our ego and leads to a host of possible destructive responses. Nobody benefits, everybody gets miserable.
Today I believe that being offended is one of the worst, least desirable reactions to other people’s communication. Those who easily get offended make their own happiness dependent on other people – even total strangers. It’s a recipe for disaster, dispute and negativity.
The issue of people getting offended obviously is especially relevant these days. The terror attack against the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo would most likely not have happened if the attackers would not have seen the charicatures published by Charlie Hedbo as offensive.
When it comes to religion, people are especially likely to become offended, and this is nothing exclusive to Islam. There is very little tolerance for satire or jokes about religious sacred people or religions in general among religious people. That becomes a big problem when the consequence is a requirement that even people not belonging to a specific religion should respect the rules written in this specific religion’s holy book. 22 % of the world’s countries and territories still have anti-blasphemy laws, which means that there actually is a right not to be offended, which is valued much higher than freedom of expression.
I think this is wrong, and it does not have to be that way, if people would realize that giving in to the urge to be offended is a choice. We are capable of resisting this urge. In most scenarios, people should resist. And I am not only talking about religion. In general, if humans would stop going the easy way of being offended whenever they hear something their ego does not like, the world would be a better, more peaceful place.
There are certainly situations when it is fully justified to be offended. When the spouse, partner or a very good friend for no reason says provocative, hurtful things, then he or she probably deserves to get negative feedback. We usually hold people who are close to us or who we love to a higher standard than strangers on the street. And naturally, as a good human being, one does good in not purposefully hurt or offend others.
But in regards to other people that one has no close emotional connection with, or even strangers, we all would benefit from learning to control our reflex to be offended. Getting to the point where one can let go of whatever provocation or unpleasant comment one has been confronted with takes a while. It requires patience, training and the search for happiness that comes from within (meditation is a good practice to achieve that, because it teaches to observe your own thoughts and to let them go). But it pays off big time with increased happiness, less irritation and less time and energy wasted for unnecessary conflicts that in the worst case scenario might end very ugly or tragic.
Also, in a globalized, interconnected and multicultural world where people from many different backgrounds, cultures and religions mix and interact with each other, it is definitely not practical anymore to expect from all members of a society to follow and respect particular rules of certain ideologies and thought concepts, just to avoid offending others.
So my message is: Let’s learn to stop being offended, because it is a choice.