When we are offended

Is it possible to read anymore, thoughtfully and carefully, and not have an immediate reaction of some big emotion?

I don’t know.

And as a writer who contributes regularly to the seemingly infinite digital body of work, I recognize that I am intimately tied up in this phenomenon.

There is so much content coming at us all the time, from every angle, and every minute of the day, that if you haven’t properly disabled the notifications on the little universe-ruling device in your pocket, it’s quite possible you will be continually assaulted with a barrage of notifications until the end of time. Or a major DDOS attack.

This morning I was pondering this phenomena while reading some fresh negative comments on a piece that is years old. It’s a very popular piece to hate on, because in it I violate two notions our culture holds sacred: non-judgementalism and animals-as-people.

It’s the only piece I’ve ever received death threats over writing, which I guess is a notable fact.

I went back and re-read it this morning so I could get a sense of where the angry commenter was coming from. And I scrutinized myself, 2 years removed from the writing, and wondered if I could have been more gentle, more nuanced, more soft hitting.

I really don’t think so. It was a little sassy at times, but that’s because I’m a little sassy at times. The piece was already filled with those ubiquitous (and obnoxious) 21st century disclaimers “but…if…unless…in this instance…etc.” I had already bent over backwards to clarify.

And you know what?

It wasn’t good enough.

It’s a good reminder that no matter how carefully you contract your phrases or how gently you word your comment, you will invariably offend someone. We live in the age of the eternal “me,” and it’s awfully hard to keep all those other selves in mind when writing from the piddling experience of one single life.

I can not, for example, write with firsthand experience about infertility at this point in time. I can empathize and extend compassion. I can feature other women’s stories and share their words. But I can never claim that heartbreak for my own. And so inevitably, somebody is hurt by my writing about it. Or by my not writing about it.

Offending is the easy part. Being offended the next easiest.

It’s what to do with that that has so many of us (myself included) flummoxed.

I have a few thoughts.

First, when I encounter something that offends me, it is helpful to ask, on what level am I offended? Have I been personally attacked? Are my beliefs being belittled or challenged? Does something I hold to be important or dear cause someone else to mock and snicker?

This is an important question to ask because it helps tease out the truly offensive (personal attacks, threats of violence, blasphemy for the sake of provocation) from the merely mildly irritating (hating the Cubs, voting for an opposing candidate, not believing in sleep training children).

If I perceive every single offense as a personal threat, that automatically elevates things into an elevated-cortisol situation, which can make people do – and say – pretty hotheaded stuff.

Example. Someone hates the Cubs (majorly theoretical here because baseball does not compute for me. But I know World Series is a thing.) Someone makes statement along those lines in public comment section, and is then roundly attacked and demonized by Cubs lovers on thread. Is it really necessary to wish bodily harm and dismemberment on an opposing fan?

And is it really so surprising that a culture that speaks and writes so much violence frequently finds itself caught up in and victimized by actual violence? We become what we read, what we watch, and what we speak.

So speak life. Rebuke that Cubbie hater if you must, but do so with a rousing hoo-rah for the home team, or with a batting average stat for one of your team’s star players. Don’t attack the person, point out to them with facts and statements that you believe they may be mistaken. But recognize that you are talking about purely subjective stuff here, and that they’re well within their rights to be so.

Now, let’s say the offending statement does take the form of a personal attack. There are a few steps you can take here. First, acknowledge to yourself the credibility or likelihood that there is any meat on the bones of the situation. Some random troll on the internet hopes your baby gets sick and dies? Okay. That’s horrible. But is it likely to happen? Do you really need to respond directly to that person, except to block their IP address and move on? A more fruitful response might be a quick “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” or a quick Hail Mary for their hurting heart, and move on.

Another helpful exercise to combat perpetual offended-ness is to practice putting oneself in the proverbial moccasins of the offensive other. Could the person posting snarky, disparaging things about the upcoming holidays have recently lost a loved one and be dreading spending a first Christmas alone? Is the lady going off in the comments section suffering from some sort of mental health challenge right now? Is the mom who just dumped some halloween candy in the trash just trying to do what’s best and easiest in a house full of people with food sensitivities? (wink)

It really does help. And I don’t do it often enough, myself.

Because we are all so narrowly focused on our own little universe of me-ness, it’s all too easy to jump straight to defcon OUTRAGE when something comes across our newsfeed (or cuts across our lane of traffic) that causes us injury. Either imagined or actual.

Some other more fruitful responses to offending situations might include:

  • Directly messaging or emailing the writer or poster. “You said thus and such, and I think you meant this by it, and it hurt my feelings/struck me as wrong/is untrue.” If you approach someone in private (which might even be a scriptural way to do business, bonus!), they’re a lot more likely to be receptive and conciliatory, should the occasion call for it. Because you haven’t put them on the spot. And you give them a chance to think from an “I’m-not-being-attacked” perspective and to respond to you calmly. They may not. But, you’ve infinitely upped the likelihood.
  • Notifying social media platform of harmful/inappropriate/pornographic content: this is more fruitful than a direct approach when the thing in question is beyond the pale awful. It might not always work, but it’s worth taking the step.
  • Praying for the person who hurt you and forgiving them in your heart, even if you never approach them. There’s huge freedom here, believe it or not. Carrying around negative emotions and grudges is exhausting.
  • Writing a positive, non-attacking rebuttal of why the opposite is actually true. Not be be confused with writing a hit piece on the person you disagree with. (I hate those. Why do people do that?) Take all that negative energy and direct it towards sharing the truth on such and such issue.
  • Leave a thoughtful, balanced comment on a public forum or site that speaks your side of the issue with clarity, charity and balance. Let the “other side” see that your kind ain’t all that crazy, after all. Or at least that there’s one civil outlier.

At the end of the day, it’s a great big world out there and the internet can make it look a lot smaller than it actually is. When I consider the high, high probability that in this big old world, it’s very possible that not everything I read was written for – or about – me, it can make life so much more pleasant.

And for the love, disable your notifications.



One Comment

  • John Stevens


    What you are arguing for is an actual argument, not the much more common demagoguery, quarrel, virtue signaling or self-congratulatory one-upsmanship.

    Good luck with that. I mean that in all seriousness . . . good luck.

    In the meantime, you can refresh yourself with reading the arguments presented at places like The Public Discourse. The politeness and reasonableness of the arguments presented by opposing parties there should be a welcome change from the much more common name calling, logical fallacies, sneering tone and disdain.

    “A well crafted argument has an intrinsic beauty. This beauty arises from the truth embedded in the argument. It shines forth like a light, beckoning us toward its source; he that is the way, the life and the truth.”

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