About a month ago someone very drunk blew up at me. He was furious. He called me all the insulting, belittling, degrading names you can think of.
It’s been years since anyone has treated me that way. It was shocking. My heart was beating faster than I was comfortable with. My adrenaline spiked. It was intense.
In college this would have wrecked me. I would have defended myself and fought with him. I would have looked for ways to hurt him back. I would have called my friends and family for confirmation that he was wrong and I was right. Then I would have ignored him for weeks. No number of apologies would change my mind.
I would be offended.
I would be completely focused on defending myself. I would be determined to prove my rightness or my value or my superiority. All of my mental and emotional energy would be hijacked by this trigger until I felt right or justified or good or equal.
But this time I sat still and listened.
I asked him a few followup questions and looked for clarity. At times I closed my eyes, slowed my breath, and noticed my accelerated heartbeat.
At no point was I offended. I was surprised. I was focused. I was even a little concerned for my physical safety once or twice. But I was never offended.
Because I wasn’t lost in the endless, high-maintenance activity of being offended, I was able to do different things with my brain.
Like investigate the underlying imbalance of the moment.
Because I wasn’t wasting my time and energy being offended, I was able to notice that part of me felt sorry for him. I knew he would regret this moment. I could see that he was hurting. He felt threatened and confused so he became angry. This gave me access to forgiveness.
When I felt myself forgive him, a rush of calm flooded my system. My heart slowed down and my thoughts relaxed.
That freed up even more bandwidth. I started looking for the opportunity:
“What is the most useful way for me to interpret this moment? How is this the best case scenario? If I were looking back on this moment a month from now, proud of how it went, how would I have handled it? What is here for me to learn? What would Albus Dumbledore do?”
Suddenly I saw how I was responsible for his outburst. This was remarkably freeing. It was actionable. The next day when we spoke, I knew exactly what needed to be clarified. I even apologized for not being clearer sooner. No drama, no grudges, no arguments, no confusion.
And now I feel wiser, clearer, and more aligned than I felt before that situation.
If I had been offended, I might still be ignoring him, resenting him or looking for proof that he’s an asshole with a temper—someone I should never associate with again. I never would have found my center in that situation. I never would have found forgiveness or opportunity or freedom. And I certainly never would have uprooted the source of the breakdown.
If I had been offended, I wouldn’t have overcome the obstacle. I would still be stuck. That trigger would still exist.
Objectively speaking, the insulting things he said to me were offensive. But offensive circumstances do not equal being offended. Not even close.
Offensive circumstances—like all circumstances—are inherently neutral. Empty. Meaningless. Definitionless. Being offended means you’ve chosen a definition, and the definition you’ve chosen hurts. In my humble opinion, being offended lives in the same camp as feeling sorry for yourself. Quit it. Get up. Learn something.
When you’re offended, you’re interpreting an otherwise neutral situation in a way that suggests that you are unworthy or inferior.
When you’re offended, you’re crowdsourcing your self esteem.
When you’re offended, you’re not taking responsibility for your experience.
When you’re offended, you believe that you’re the victim of your circumstances.
When you’re offended, you’re outsourcing your sense of safety, worthiness or wellbeing.
When you’re offended, you’re actively perpetuating the reality of inequality and conflict.
Don’t misunderstand me:
Circumstances can be scary and unjust. But when you’re offended, you’re preventing growth and progress and understanding and transformation. If you’re committed to being right and making someone else wrong, suit yourself. But if you’re serious about changing something, you must stop being offended by it.
Instead, try this:
- Sit still and listen. Breathe. Notice your heartbeat.
- Forgive them. Even if they really wronged you. Especially if they really wronged you. Think MLKJ. Think Nelson Mandela. Think Victor E Frankl.
- Look for the opportunity. What’s here for you to learn?
- Take responsibility. Even if it’s undebatably 100% their fault. Reclaim the power of the moment. Take full responsibility. Try this idea before you reject it. It’s radical. It’s hard. And it’s transformative.
Thank you Jamie for the photo and the title.