Do you take offense at things people say or do?
Are you appalled on a semi-regular basis?
Sometimes people do terrible things. Sometimes they say awful things. This post is not about that.
This post is about taking offense.
Because I want to suggest that taking offense is a poor strategy for reacting to something you don’t like. Not because the other person is justified, but because taking offense stops you from digging deeper into what you think or feel. It denies you the chance to understand things better.
It’s the equivalent of saying, I have a strong reaction to what just happened, but it’s uncomfortable, and I don’t want to do the work of identifying why I feel this way, so I’ll put all the blame on you.
Granted, taking offense is more succinct and involves fewer commas.
But there are several reasons why it’s also a lousy strategy.
1. Taking Offense Is Emotionally Lazy
When you take offense it stops you getting in touch with what you think and feel. It closes the door to self-knowledge.
Offense is not a feeling – but what are you feeling? Are you hurt by what they said or did? Do you feel rejected? Marginalized? Disappointed?
Offense is not an opinion – but what is your opinion? Do you think what they said or did is unfair? Harsh? Harmful? Disrespectful? Why do you think that?
2. Taking Offense Shuts Down Communication
When you take offense you also stop the conversation dead.
Unlike a feeling or opinion, your offense can’t be discussed or unpacked. It shuts down further communication with the person who has offended you, and with anyone else who is also having a reaction. The only response is to agree or disagree. It’s an informational dead-end, a conversational cul de sac.
Feelings and opinions, on the other hand, allow further exploration of an issue and greater understanding of each other.
3. Don’t Take Offense – Dig Deeper
So my suggestion is this: Don’t stop at the point of taking offense. Not because the other person is right, but because taking offense is not a good strategy for you.
Instead, dig a little deeper to find out what you feel, what you think. Excavate, discuss, think… until you unearth a feeling or opinion. That’s useful!
Both for how you understand yourself, and for how you communicate with others.
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