Unfortunately, people sometimes say and do things that are careless, blunt, insensitive or even mean-spirited. While we can’t control the intentions or behavior of others, we can determine how we will act. We can choose to not be offended.
“I can’t believe you let your kids eat toaster pastries! They’re all sugar and trans fats!” a friend told me recently. She was over for coffee and couldn’t help peering into my open pantry and seeing the box of toaster pastries.
I could feel my hackles starting to rise. What would motivate someone to make a remark like that?! It would never occur to me to critique what other people have in their kitchen cupboards. Still, I told myself my friend probably meant well. After all, she studied nutrition in college and that was “her thing.” In her own way, she was probably trying to show concern. So I simply smiled, shrugged and replied, “You’re right. They’re not exactly nutritious. But once in a while I buy them for a special treat.”
This response is what I call the “Value-the-Other-Person’s-Perspective” approach. You let the other person know you can see some truth to what she just said. Sure, it would have been easy to take offense at my friend’s words, but why? In the broad scheme of things, does it really matter that my friend doesn’t agree with all of my grocery purchases? Obviously, it doesn’t. If I would have challenged her on what she said, that may have led to an argument. Instead, after my response, my friend smiled back. Then we began to talk about something totally different, and had a pleasant conversation.
I wish I could say I always respond to offensive remarks in this way, but I don’t. Sometimes I let other people’s careless, blunt or insensitive words rub me the wrong way. I feel hurt, upset, insulted, snubbed, slighted or wronged. I’m not able to let the comments just slide.
Chances are, you can relate. From time to time, probably most of us find ourselves offended by something someone said, or perhaps did. You don’t get invited to a party that everyone else you know is going to. Your boss commends your coworker in the company meeting, but doesn’t acknowledge any of your efforts. You don’t receive a thank you card for the birthday gift you gave someone. Your son sits out on the bench the entire baseball game, while the coach’s son and his circle of friends play the whole time. It can be so difficult to overlook these kinds of annoyances.
Yet, we must. The Bible admonishes us to not be oversensitive: “Do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes:7:21-22).
We know that part of the fruit of God’s Spirit is love. In 1 Corinthians:13:5, we’re told that a vital aspect of love is to not be easily provoked or stirred to anger.
Those who really love God’s law and understand His Word will not allow small irritants and annoyances to drive a wedge between others and themselves. They know how easy it is to cause others offense. Proverbs:11:12 says, “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.”
Certainly, these verses are not telling us we should never confront another person about a serious problem. There are times when we do need to go to our brother, as commanded in Matthew:18:15-17. However, confronting others should not be something we are doing on a regular basis. You don’t want to be the proverbial “contentious woman” (or man) who is just itching to be offended, all-too-ready to tell others off and put them in their place. No one wants to spend time around someone like that.
Of course, some people aren’t “confrontational,” but may get just as offended. Rather than pick a fight with the offender, they stew about what the person said or did, harboring all kinds of negative emotions. That’s not good, either. These kinds of feelings can grow and fester, and turn someone into an angry, bitter, miserable person. It can also lead to grudges. I know people who have spent years estranged from once good friends over relatively small offenses.
The fact of the matter is offenses are going to come our way. When they do, it’s okay to admit that it hurts. However, we don’t have to get upset about it. We can choose to not be offended. It says in Colossians:3:13 that we should be “bearing with one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” Here are some suggestions for how to do just that:
Get your focus off “self”
Having hurt feelings and being easily offended is almost always a result of being too preoccupied with “self”: “No one liked my ideas.” “She was curt with me .” “They hardly talked to me .” “He didn’t even thank me .” “No one ever asked for my opinion.” “Why wasn’t I considered for the position?” “Nobody paid any attention to me .”
I can see it in some of my own interactions. Once my husband and I hosted a dinner party and one of our guests spent much of the evening going on and on about what an elegant hostess one of her friends was: “Oh, you should see the tables Joelle sets!” “Joelle doesn’t serve everyday food like most of us do when we have dinner parties; she serves six-course gourmet meals.” “I always feel like I’m at a five-star restaurant when I go to Joelle’s house for dinner.” “Joelle makes the best desserts I’ve ever tasted!” This guest didn’t make any positive comments that evening about the meal I prepared. I was feeling slighted, because I thought I had served a nice meal on a beautifully set table too.
It wasn’t until after the guests left that evening that I really thought things through. The reason I felt offended was because someone else was getting recognition, not me. That’s not to say it was wrong to hope for a compliment that evening. Everyone likes that kind of positive feedback. But I did need to get my mind off “self concerns.”
If you find yourself getting irritated because someone else is in the limelight, think about that person’s good qualities. Try to see why he or she is being praised. Ask God to help you be happy for others when they are successful.
If you are upset because you didn’t get your way or someone pointed out some of your shortcomings, ask God to help you cultivate more of a humble mindset. You may not want to hear it, but there may very well be others who have more expertise in a particular area than you do. It’s hard to become offended if you are esteeming others better than yourself, and valuing what they have to offer. Truly, one of the best ways to keep from becoming offended is to get your focus off yourself…and onto others.
Examine your own feelings
Typically, people who are easily offended are over-sensitive about too many things. They seem to have a chip on their shoulders, and are very quick to interpret even the most innocent comments as an offense. They become offended, not so much because of what was said or done to them, but because of inner, personal struggles.
A friend told me how she felt insulted while on a tour overseas. Another woman on the tour came up to her, introduced herself, and then looked her squarely in the eyes and asked, “How old are you?!” My friend, incredulous that someone she just met would be so forward, stuttered, “Umm, uh, uh…” Then, before she could come up with an appropriate answer, the woman demanded, “Are you 52? You look like you’re in your 50s.” My friend, who was 42, could hardly believe someone could be so brusque. She replied, “Do I really look that old?” to which the woman answered back with another question, “Well, are you 48?” My friend never answered, but admits to feeling “really irritated” with this person.
Unquestionably, going up to someone you just met and boldly asking her age is not exhibiting a lot of tact. However, after my friend started thinking about what happened, she realized the real problem wasn’t so much the perceived offense, as much as she was having a difficult time coming to terms with getting older. She knew she was aging and didn’t like what she saw in the mirror. That was the real reason she was upset.
If you find yourself easily upset with others, examine yourself to see if something is going on in your life to make you more irritable. Are you blaming others for offending you, when in reality you wouldn’t be upset if you had already dealt with certain hot-button issues in your life? Ask God to help you get over these wounds, emotional scars and insecurities, so they’re no longer driving a wedge between yourself and others.
Look at the other person’s background
Always take other people’s backgrounds into account. We all have different reasons for doing the things we do. Sometimes what seems to be a major offense is simply a reflection of a different personality, upbringing, cultural background or lifestyle.
I once knew someone who had moved to the United States from another part of the world, who was often offending others. His new friends in the U.S. thought he was too blunt and forward. It wasn’t until this man’s family came to visit the U.S. that his American friends really understood why he talked the way he did. They observed their friend and his family interacting with each other in a very direct, “in your face” manner. Yet, they could see that this man and his family had a deep love and respect for each other. From that time forward, their friend’s blunt manner (by American standards anyway!) was no longer taken as an affront, but rather a cultural difference.
Next time you find yourself taking offense to something, try to imagine yourself in the other person’s situation. Remind yourself that he or she may not be coming from the same perspective as you. What once seemed like a huge offense may no longer be one.
Shed unfair expectations of others
Often when we take offense, it’s a matter of being disappointed in other people when we see their faults. You see the same clique always together at church, never trying to get to know anyone else. Your child’s teacher has a week’s worth of homework to grade and isn’t very friendly when you drop by her office to talk with her. The office kiss-up name-drops so that you know “how tight” he is with the boss. Unfortunately, these kinds of things happen. Don’t let yourself be taken aback when they do.
True, if the person who has offended you has accepted the Christian calling, you should see some Godly fruits in him. Hopefully you will be able to keep some of these good qualities in mind. But you should also remind yourself that the person is still human and far from perfect. He or she is going to make mistakes, just as you will.
The Apostle Paul summed up the human condition this way: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans:7:18). If you remember this, you will be much more tolerant of others, and less likely to take offense when people say and do things they shouldn’t.
Assume good motives
Finally, it’s important to assume that the person who offended you has your best interest at heart, or at least didn’t mean to hurt you. One friend, a copywriter with an advertising agency, told me how she made some French pastries and brought them into work one day. Her boss, the agency’s creative director, took one bite of the pastry and raved, “You’re in the wrong field! You should be working in a bakery! This is the best dessert I have ever tasted in my life!”
My friend thanked him for the compliment, but was furious inside. She fumed to herself, “I spent six years in college and have a Master’s degree in Advertising. I’ve gotten several awards for my copywriting. But my boss tells me I should be baking for a living!”
She didn’t stay upset, though. “Just the previous week my boss told me I did an exemplary job on a direct mail piece I’d recently completed,” she related. “I had to remind myself of that, rather than dwell on what he said when he was completely enthralled with the pastry he was devouring.” In the end, my friend knew that what her boss said the moment he was eating the dessert was not an accurate assessment of what he thought about her professional work. It’s helpful to remember that what someone says is not always what he or she meant.
I’ll admit to being the queen of sticking-your-foot-in-your-mouth. I’ve always been a fast talker, and don’t always give myself time to think things through before I speak. Not surprisingly, some of the things I blurt out don’t always come out that well. I am grateful my friends give me the benefit of the doubt. I don’t have to worry that they are going to assume the worst in interpreting my words and actions. I know that if I do say something tactless or inappropriate, they will see it for what it is and not make more of it than necessary. This is the same kind of understanding I need to extend to others.
If others offend you, consider that they probably didn’t intend to. Chances are they were preoccupied with something else, weren’t feeling well, or didn’t think how their actions may have come across.
Next time you find yourself getting offended, take a few moments to think things through. Once you do, you may realize it’s not something to get upset about. Remember, we all have unique personalities. Allow for those differences, ignore the unpleasant mistakes, and learn to enjoy other people—even when they don’t always say or do things that endear you to them.
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