Wednesday, August 18, 2010

offending v. being offended

I recently heard someone say that they were "opening a can of whoop-ass" when they meant to say they were "opening a can of worms." The best part was that they didn't even know they said it wrong. I am opening a can of worms here. Not whoop-ass. Probably a boring can or worms, but I find it interesting.

There is a great talk from the October 2006 LDS Conference by David Bednar that encourages us not to take offense or not to let ourselves be offended to the point that we hold grudges and allow it to hold us back in life. Unfortunately, I have heard people use this the other way around.

"I don't need to watch what I say. She just chose to be offended by what I said."

I don't think this was the point of the message. Elder Bednar wasn't giving us permission to say whatever we want and then blame it on the other person for "letting themselves be offended."

The reason I bring this up tonight is a recent Facebook discussion. (Oh, the drama that can arise from the lovely land of public forum discussions...) It seems everyone in the discussion disagrees with me, which actually surprised me and made me a little sad for the future of mankind (okay, not that last part). So I'm bringing the discussion here to see what you all think.

I'm 100% positive the comment that spurred the conversation was not intended to offend. The intent behind it was sincere but was just written in a way that could be misinterpreted. It just served as a lead in to a bigger discussion. Also, the person who made the initial comment was not part of the ensuing conversation. The comment in question was that of a thin person wondering why so many people gain weight after high school. My gut reaction (my own misinterpretation) was that many of the people reading this person's Facebook post were probably old high school friends--many of whom had gained weight and probably inspired the comment in the first place. Even if those specific friends didn't inspire the comment, they will probably think it was about them once they read it.

The discussion itself occurred on someone else's page and covered the more general topic of being sensitive to what we say out of respect to those whom it might make uncomfortable. I tend to worry a lot about people's feelings. I try not to post anything that will make people feel bad about themselves. If it will probably hurt someone's feelings and doesn't need to be said, then it probably doesn't need to be put up in a public forum.

Turns out no one agreed with me. The overwhelming opinion (of the few people in the discussion) was that if we point out obvious stuff, it's not our fault if the other people "allow themselves to be offended." If the information is accurate, it's okay to say it. No questions asked.

I believe the choice not to be offended is ours to make, but it shouldn't be a free pass to dismiss other people's feelings. Perhaps the least we can do is be more careful about the way we say things if we really think they need to be said.

Am I alone on this? Does it make anyone else uncomfortable to think that we don't need to take other people's feelings or sensitivities or struggles into account when we talk?

I'll bet some of you don't agree with me. And that's fine. You probably have thick skin and expect that everyone else does, too. Or you're just a meanie. :)

Your thoughts?

By the way, if the people in the Facebook discussion are serious about what they said, then I don't need to worry about offending them with this post--since they are of the opinion that it's their own fault if they let themselves be offended...Right?


Erica said...

I totally agree with you! I have to admit that I am not great at keeping my mouth shut all the time.. lol. I've been a bit over-sarcastic since my high school days.. May be the reason I never had a boyfriend in HS! lol! (That and the fact that I was awkward and gigantically tall..) But anyway, I don't think it gives people a free pass to say whatever they want.. I completely agree. (Especially because I totally gained weight after high school.. I would have taken offense and I'm not someone who easily takes offense at things like that. I'm such a fatty now it's so gross. Haha. I WISH I could be as thin as I was back then..)

Julianne said...

Being offended is a choice. Being hurt is different. It's more automatic, and it's an emotion that is perfectly okay to feel.

It's our choice what we do with that feeling, though. We can give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn't mean it to come out the way it did. We can choose to forgive. Or we can hold onto it and be offended.

We should all be better at forgiveness.

But, do we really want to hurt people or put them into a position where they need to forgive? Of course not.

Sometimes we need to offer up some honesty, but it better be important.

Ian, Jessica, Halle and now Camdyn! said...

There are so many layers to this... is it possible to agree with both points? I think that in both cases, it's just important to be Christlike (or whatever you want to call it) know a good person. I question the need for the initial comment on facebook and why she felt the need to say it so publicly and then I also question the people who obviously allowed themselves to get so worked up about it. In both cases, it seems like there are some self esteem issues here. Ultimately we all just need to claim responsibility for ourselves. And I absolutely agree that the general authorities are not giving us permission to behave however we want and expect those we offend to just get over it. It just goes back to taking responsibility for yourself and always trying to do our best. We should all be quick to forgive AND quick to apologize, much easier said than done, but there's my bit of two sense. love the insight!

LJ, DC and ML said...

Oh boy, gotta love facebook fights with strangers over the internet. There is way too much that can get lost in translation.

LJ, DC and ML said...

And ps. yes, I agree with you. Another reason why I'm not madly in love with Facebook in general. I'm too sensitive.

The Winkelman's said...

Wow, Molly. I'm glad you brought this up. This is something that my husband are always dealing with.... getting offended and holding grudges. I've come to the conclusion that it is totally a two way street. I want to always assume that my husband is not trying to offend me, and in return he has to be careful not to offend. Plus, it really depends on what it is. I'm like you in that I am very protective of other people's feelings, even if it's at the cost of not saying anything at all when something should be said.

Braden and Cheri said...

there was a gal in our ward in AZ who stood up and bore her testimony saying, "All you people who don't keep your kids quiet are the reason why I have to get up and leave Sacrament meeting. So when you see me leave, it's your fault." Of course, she prefaced it with "This might offend you, but I don't care." It was the most un-Christlike thing I had ever heard. Most people who feel that way truly ARE trying to offend or at least make their point in order to put down another person. When that is the intent, while it is still our job to NOT be offended, it can still really hurt feelings. But when someone says something inadvertantly and people are offended by it, that is ONLY the person taking the offense's fault. Also in that ward, I made a comment to someone that I meant to be supportive and empathetic. She took it as completely condescending and offensive, wrote me a nasty email, spread gossip in the ward, and gave me the silent treatment. When I apologized profusely, she refused to forgive me. I can't do anything about that.

"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
— Brigham Young

Kerri said...

Ahhh...the wise philosophies of Molly that get me through life :) It is so true (you being wise, and also what you've written about). And Julianne's comment addressing the difference between offended and hurt struck a cord too. Sometimes things are posted that have no intent whatsoever to exclude, offend, or point fingers. But the natural feelings inside -- that we are all trying to overcome -- come out sometimes and we do get hurt. These are emotions. These are feelings. For all the years I've known you, you have been wise in seeking others' feelings, and also checking yourself before judging someone else. It's definitely something worth emulating.

The Bundys said...

When I read your post, I thought about how our society will change a lot because we are texting and blogging and facebooking and people are communicating without eye contact or voice inflections. I think people will mis-communicate more and people will loose the ability to communicate with compassion and empathy. I know that has nothing to do with what you are talking about, but that is what I thought. I think people are too fast to speak without thinking most of the time (and I find myself in that situation and regret it a lot.)

Dr. aafb said...

I agree with the person who agreed with both sides to the issue. I too think we need to forgive easy and not be quick to be offended but we should too try not to say those things that we know may hurt some one's feelings unless it really is something that needs to be addressed. I am positive that Elder Bednar was not implying that we can go ahead and say whatever we want because everyone should just forgive. We should try to be the type of person that doesn't need to be forgiven often. Interesting food for thought...

Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Murphy Mania said...

My mom always said, "Before you say something you need to think about 2 things. 1) Is it true? 2) Is it necessary?"
I like Julianne's comment about being hurt. Just had a great Sunday School lesson today about anger and how it is the only feeling that doesn't come by itself but is always shortly preceded by another feeling: embarassment, betrayal, sorrow, frustration even. To avoid taking offense ourselves (which is really anger right?) I think we need to look closely at the emotion that came before the anger.
Completely agree with Becky about the disadvantages of all this "faceless" contact and the impersonality of a lot of the relationships that are formed through social media. Do you think our great-grandparents felt this way about telephones? :)