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The Giving and Taking of Offense

It seems that taking offense has become the national pastime.  We can take offense at just about anything – someone’s political views, things done by their distant relatives, their religious beliefs, their success (or lack thereof), their hairstyle – you name it, it can offend us.  Personally, I think being offended (or overly upset by other’s actions) is a huge waste of time.  Let other people do what they do – don’t give them so much power over your emotions.  Someone wants to give a political speech and you disagree with their crazy left-wing/right-wing views?  Well, don’t go.  It really has nothing to do with you.  Why let it rile you up so much?  I believe the vast majority of people don’t actually want to offend.  They are just going about their lives believing what they believe.  They don’t believe these things to upset you.  Really, their beliefs probably have absolutely nothing to do with you.  But the world is what it is, and we tend to vilify those different from ourselves.  We also tend to believe we are indeed, the center of the Universe.

People also talk a lot about being disrespected.  In a recent SHRM survey, the top contributor to job satisfaction was “respectful treatment of employees at all levels.”  Well, that sounds great, but what does that even mean?  In working with a wide variety of people, I have come to find respect can mean 40 different things to 40 different people.  To some, respect means you will listen to what they have to say when they want to say it.  Being told someone is busy right now and can’t meet with them is disrespect.  To other people, respect might mean you don’t interrupt or cut them off.  And while we all agree in theory that we shouldn’t interrupt other people, isn’t it disrespectful to drone on and on and waste other people’s time?  Do you see how difficult it is to make sure no one ever feels disrespected?

Here’s what I think.  First of all, we should get the heck over it.  If someone doesn’t listen to you, make your ideas so compelling, they want to listen.  Or take your ideas someplace they will be heard.  The only person you can control in any situation is you.  Also, I don’t think it’s always about us.  Maybe the other person is not disrespecting you, they’re just a poor communicator (to everyone).  Or they are incredibly overworked and are doing the best they can, they just don’t have time to soothe your fragile ego.  Sure, there are some mean, evil people out there.  I believe they are the exception.  Most of us are blundering through, doing the best we can, probably offending people daily and not even realizing it.  I have short hair.  A rushed stewardess once called me “Sir.”  Did I get offended?  Was I disrespected?  Please.  She didn’t do it on purpose – and even if she did, who cares?

Next time you find yourself offended or disrespected, ask if either of those emotions serve you.  Could you be reading the situation wrong?  Is it really about you?   Do you treat yourself and others with what you consider respect?  I often find people who are complaining the most about not being respected often behave in ways not worthy of respect.

Life is short.  Travel joyfully.  Assume others like you and respect you.  If they don’t, let them go.  Let others have their “wrong” beliefs, know that you have many of your own.  And next time you find yourself offended, ask why you are giving the situation any power over you at all.  Let it go.  Everyone will respect you for it.

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