You're cruising around the interwebs and social media, looking to relax, maybe have a laugh or get inspired. All is going well until someone posts a comment or photo or joke about (WHATEVER).
What does it take to offend you? Someone saying things you disagree with about
Taking offense seems to be a pretty popular sport in the online world. There's not enough space on this page to list all the things over which people could get their knickers in a twist. Why is that?
Is it that there are truly offensive people in the world who get great enjoyment out of upsetting people? Probably. Or are they just so ignorant in social skills that they can't help themselves. Definitely. Or are they just innocently speaking their mind with no offense intended whatsoever? I believe that's where the majority should be categorized.
What is the ultimate driver of offense, whether given or taken?
I would suggest it's pride. I'm not talking about pride where your child does something wonderful and it warms your heart and makes you want to stand up and cheer. I'm not talking about pride in yourself when you graduate from a tough course or receive some well-deserved award or recognition.
I'm talking about pride in the way I believe God describes it... and it's never good when God describes pride.
"Pride cometh before the fall." At least that's how I've always heard it. I asked my wife what proverb she thought of about pride, and she thought this one too. I asked if she knew anything about "pride goeth" and she didn't. Neither did I before I looked.
So I looked up what I was thinking about and it turns out that the adage about pride many people have in their heads is a misquote. Here is the actual quote from Proverbs 12:18
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud."
I'm going to suggest this kind of pride is a bad thing. Anything that goes before destruction can't be good.
I remember very clearly the day and moment my whole world changed in relation to my understanding of pride. I was sitting in a chapel on a Sunday in Adelaide, Australia. I was listening to a talk, given on Saturday in the U.S. (time zone changes and all),that rocked my world (for the better). The speaker was a man named Ezra Taft Benson.
Ezra Benson was a humble farmer (humble is good) who had risen to great heights and had reason to be proud of himself. He became the 15th United States Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower. I'm not quite sure how much further a farmer can rise in the U.S.
But I also knew him as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time. I believed him to be a prophet of God, a seer, a revelator of God's will to all of us inhabitants of the earth. The speech he gave that day was directed at everyone, not just us Mormons.
Here are some of the things he pointed out:
"In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby.
Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.
Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.”"
~ Ezra Taft Benson - Beware of Pride
If I were to make up my own word to describe pride, it would be againstness. It's one thing to pit our will against God, but we seem to easily fall into pitting ourselves against our fellow earth-passengers. President Benson went on to say:
"Another major portion of this very prevalent sin of pride is enmity toward our fellowmen. We are tempted daily to elevate ourselves above others and diminish them.
The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10.)
~ Ezra Taft Benson - Beware of Pride
Againstness. Without it, we cease the sin of pride, or fault if you'd rather call it that.
Aside: One of my friends when we were younger used to say, "I'm not conceited. Conceit is a fault and I don't have any." I still think that's funny. I've told that to people throughout the years and some of them don't even get the joke... Scary.
Back to the story. The thing that really rocked me that Sunday was when he said that the proud are "easily offended." That comment fit me to a T at that point in my life. I had never considered that "taking offense" at something was just as prideful as "giving offense." THAT thought is what rocked my world.
I knew I was being proud when I felt better than others in my field (I had won the vast majority of awards available when coming up through the ranks). I'm not telling these things now because of pride, but rather to make a point. I WAS proud of those things and it WAS againstness. And it was wrong of me. I see that now.
But I had never considered that when I was offended by ANYTHING anyone else ever said to me, that I was being proud. This thought had never crossed my mind. Maybe I'm just slow...
I had forgotten the little expression we were taught as kids... "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
I'm thinking that expression might best be changed to "names SHOULD never hurt me." If we all got rid of the pride of being offended, wouldn't it be a happier place?
And then I realized there was more I had to learn as I sat there and listened with all my heart. I really wanted to learn that great message that day. President Benson went on to say:
"Some prideful people are not so concerned as to whether their wages meet their needs as they are that their wages are more than someone else’s. Their reward is being a cut above the rest. This is the enmity of pride.
When pride has a hold on our hearts, we lose our independence of the world and deliver our freedoms to the bondage of men’s judgment."
~ Ezra Taft Benson - Beware of Pride
Do we really understand that when we are prideful, we are giving up our freedom? We place ourselves, by our own unwise choice, to be "in bondage of men's judgment."
Unbelievable!!! I had chosen to be in bondage and I never knew it. I made myself a victim of what other people thought of me.
Year's later I read Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian Psychiatrist during World War II. He also happened to be Jewish and ended up spending almost 3 years in different concentration camps. Almost everyone he loved was killed, including his wife. I don't know how bad you think your life is going, but I'm going to hope it's not "Viktor Frankl bad."
The part of his story that really got me was that be was able to live through and personally observe what I would consider the absolute worst of human conditions. He said that some of the guards were brutal, but that others tried their best to be compassionate, even when their own lives were on the line if they helped too much.
Then he described how many of the prisoners were kind to each other, even offering their last meal to someone else when they knew they were going to die soon, and usually of starvation.
But he also described other prisoners who were just as cruel, in their own realm, as the brutal guards. They would steal food. They would put themselves above all others, to the detriment and hardship of others.
Viktor discovered that a person's circumstances, in the end, had very little to do with how they chose to behave. Whether guard or prisoner, each chose whether to be kind and compassionate or cruel and brutal. It led to his most famous quote:
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
~ Viktor Frankl - Man's Search For Meaning
When I thought about this and remembered what I had learned years before from President Benson, it was a loud thunderous reminder about freedom. When we are prideful in any degree, when we have in us even the slightest inkling of "againstness," we have chosen not freedom, but bondage to how other people think of us.
What's worse is that it's usually only what WE think others think of us. If we really knew how little time others spend thinking about us, we would never give away our freedom so lightly.
So back to my original questions. What does it take to offend you? What does it take to offend me?
Before I read Frankl, but immediately after I heard Benson in 1989, I made a conscious decision right then and there to work on never being offended. I exercised my "last of the human freedoms" by consciously choosing my own way.
How has it worked out? I'd say about 90% good. I'm about 90% DUCK, in that I mostly let stuff roll off my back. About 90% of the time, things that I would normally find offensive I now truly don't. It doesn't phase my mojo. It is SOOO freeing to think that way. That decision that day worked that well for me all these years later.
But I'd be lying if I told you that I've completely conquered my pride and that I never get offended. My feelings occasionally get hurt just like almost everyone else I know. Sometimes it lasts a while and aches a bit, but when those moments come, I now get over them much more quickly than I ever did pre-1989, the year my mind was given a new choice.
Why, you might ask? Because in those moments I realize I have the freedom to choose to let it roll off my back. I also realize I have the freedom to choose bondage to others' opinions. Most of the time I make the right choice right away and I just get on with life.
Praise God who gave me the freedom to choose my own way, my own mood, my own attitude, and all the rest. He gave that same freedom to you!
So am I ever full of judgment of others? Sadly, I'm still human in that department too. Do I give offense? Sadly, I've got to own that one too. But gladly, it is almost never with any sort of malice or bad intent. My mouth occasionally gets me in trouble, and I assume that's a common feature of us humans, Model U-Me-US-100. Hopefully most of us are just speaking our mind innocently with no offense intended.
So how do we self-correct when feelings of pride come up, whether on the "giving offense" or "taking offense" side of the equation? Here are a couple of suggestions.
We have a choice. It's possible to read something online and still be a duck. It's possible to overhear gossip or a snide comment about ourselves or someone we love and still be a duck. It's possible to experience an idea that is different to our upbringing, our race, our experience, our gender, our politics, our sexuality, our skin tone, our height, our religion, our WHATEVER... and still choose to be kind and loving and a duck.
It's also possible to stop ourselves half way through a sentence where we're about to give offense, and remember we have the ability to alter our course. It's possible to see our brother or sister as just that, and one of God's precious children and choose to treat them that way, behaviorally, verbally, and with our real intent.
And if anything I've suggested here you find offensive, I would invite you to take what you like and leave the rest. That's what a duck would do.