I have heard numerous stories lately from friends and patients in which they inadvertently offended another person. And of course, you can’t read or listen to the news without hearing about someone expressing serious disgust because of how they were treated by another person.
It should go without saying that we have a moral obligation to respect the opinions, positions, and interests of others, and we should expect others to respect ours, but how sensitive should we be? How sensitive do we need to be?
I have been in many positions in my life where I could have been offended, but chose not to. When individuals finds themselves in a situation when they can possibly take offense to something that was said, there is a split second when the mind must attach what was being said to a specific meaning. After all, it’s the meaning we give things that determines their impact on how we feel. The biggest problems occur when we assign incorrect, or inflamed, meaning to something someone did or said.
When patients tell me that they are going to their “regular” doctor, or “normal” doctor, I could find that offensive. Do they mean that I am irregular? Or abnormal? Of course not! I practice an alternative form of health care. They were raised, taught, and conditioned that the word “doctor” applies to the allopathic medical doctor. As a chiropractor, I fall into the alternative medicine category. This makes the form of healthcare I practice different than what most people consider traditional medicine. When someone makes a reference to their regular or normal doctor, I have a split second to determine what those words mean to me. The outcome? No energy expended by me. No negative emotions felt. No ill feelings toward the person saying those words.
I have a friend who teaches at the college level. He has shared that there have been a few instances in which he, or other colleagues, genuinely just goofed up in regards to how they referred to a student. With the newness and confusion around pronoun use, it isn’t uncommon for one to mis-state the proper pronoun preferred by the individual. He has found students to be angered by the mistake, and to publicly and emotionally correct/reprimand him. My friend has meant no harm and is one of the most understanding, compassionate, and non-judgmental people I know. Simply misspeaking or making a mistake should not result in offending.
What about when someone says something that is intended to be offensive or hurtful? Well, in those cases, we could revert to the oldest adage I can remember… Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me.” How about shaking it off, chalking those words up to the person delivering them as being ignorant, rude, and disrespectful. If the offensive words are untrue, and we know they are inaccurate, then who cares? Shake it off. It usually isn’t worth the energy or attention you might want to give it. And if the person delivering those words is deliberately trying to hurt, and purposefully aiming to degrade you (or something you are fond of), then you’re unlikely going to change their opinion or position anyway.
My bigger concern right now is all the offense being taken at non-offensive stuff. I know the level offense is personal, and something may be very offensive to one person, while not at all offensive, or even amusing, to another. But the amount and level of offending has skyrocketed. Being sensitive and conscious of others and their feeling is hugely important, but so is being a little less critical of the words that others are using.
What got me thinking about this more this week was hearing someone say something to the effect of… Put less energy into victimism, and more energy into heroism. Aim to be a hero, not a victim. Be careful not to misinterpret words, overreact to what others say, or be so vulnerable to the words of others. People can be hurtful, mean, and hateful, but how you handle the words they use is up to you. And there are times, no question, when taking offense is a natural and appropriate response, but let’s try not to let everything offend us.