My friend Sebastian has a great way of asking simple questions that create good discussions. We were talking about someone getting offended at something and he asked the not-quite-rhetorical question: why do people get offended?
You and I, he said, never get offended.
Being offended seems to have become a national, if not international, pastime. Anything that happens is examined not for shreds of decency and positivity, but for something to be offended about. Statements are taken out of context, magnified, and imbued with extrinsic meaning.
And people love it. Sensationalist headlines allow them to hop onto the bandwagon and be offended, maybe even more offended than the writer of the headline was.
People probably become offended for a complex mix of reasons, but I think a big one is that it is an instant dose of superiority. If you say something and I disagree with it, I have to put my brain to use and come up with logic that counteracts your position. Or I can see that I was wrong and agree with you. That’s hard, and even harder if I think you’re smarter or more informed than I am.
But if I become offended, I immediately gain moral superiority. Whether your statement is true or not is not even relevant anymore, because it is offensive. And, best of all, I need nothing to substantiate my feelings. If I am offended, I am right.
A great example is Martin Shkreli, the “most hated man” best known for raising prices of an HIV-related drug. People hear about the increase and are blind with rage. But if you actually look at what he’s doing you realize that he gives 2/3 of the drug away for free and devotes 60% of his budget to R&D. He’s made no money personally from the company and his goal in raising the price is to come up with one that doesn’t have the horrible side-effects the current one has. He can be obnoxious at times, but is not so evil.
I’m not going to convince the world to stop being offended, but since you’re reading my blog you’re probably interesting in fixing your own blind spots like I am.
I suggest to you to never be offended. It is a weak emotion, and you should notice when it rises up and search for an alternative. Maybe it’s understanding. Maybe it’s resolve to find logical flaws. Maybe it’s humility to admit that you’re wrong. Maybe it’s serenity to accept that not everything in the world will be to your liking.
Some mental states take personal strength and practice to maintain. Being empathetic is much harder than being dismissive or condescending. Forgiving someone is much harder than punishing them. Accepting someone is harder than rejecting them. Being objective is harder than being offended.
These mental states aren’t better because they’re more difficult, they’re better because they reflect a more accurate view of the world, and because they move you towards truth rather than comfort.
Photo is of some banana slugs in Santa Cruz last weekend.
Speaking of Sebastian Marshall, I REALLY like his new series, The Strategic Review. If you like my writing, you will love these weekly emails he sends out. Subscribe here.