If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
I was grocery shopping with a fellow teacher in Korea. She was wearing a blouse buttoned very modestly for Western standards, and perfectly acceptable for our school’s standard. While selecting our vegetables in the produce area, an elderly lady reached over and buttoned the top button of my friend’s blouse. We both froze in shock for a moment. The woman smiled at us, then backed away, bowing.
“Uh…. Thank you?!,” we smiled and bowed, as politely as we could muster.
It’s pretty easy to be offended. On any given day you might be faced with someone who…
- answers their cell phone when you are having lunch together
- asks you to no longer work on their project
- tells you that you have a habit that really annoys them
- makes a remark about a physical feature
- steps in front of you in line at the grocery store
- tells you they prefer someone else
- tells you that something you said made them sad or angry
- tells you that you need to change your working style
- does not eat any of the meal you prepared for them
Your typical responses might be:
- How rude!
- Oh, the nerve!
- I’ll never forget that remark!
- How dare they?
- I’m so offended!
- How could they say such a thing to me!
- That hurt my feelings!
But that’s just the beginning.
When we take offense to something, our reactions are fairly predictable:
- In the moment or shortly after, we have a sudden burst of outrage, indignation and hurt.
- Immediately, we relish the depth of the rudeness! We store as many details as possible because we know it’s going to make a juicy story later!
- Next comes the ranting phase. We rant to ourselves hundreds of times silently, and to someone else or several people about the incident a dozen times. We hone our explanation of the situation and just how cruel, ignorant or rude the offender is.
- The initial rant opens the doors to more. Next thing you know, you’re remembering other situations, or generalizing about a group of people: old people, white people, rich people, etc.
- After awhile, the incident is tucked in our memories for safekeeping, details held in tightly with tenacious indignation. Stories of rude incidents can be pulled out of the closet years or decades later. And this kind of story is such a crowd-pleaser, the replaying of a single incident never has to end.
Unless you choose to let it go.
What took a few seconds the first time around, can take up minutes and hours of our time. We have a lot of expressions that describe what happens to us in this replaying and ranting stage:
- I get so worked up every time I think about it!
- I get frustrated beyond end!
- I can’t get over it!
These are all very accurate ways to express what happens to our inner peace when we take offense and stop there. And when we rant to others, we have the ability to smash someone else’s inner peace just as easily, unless they’re quicker on their toes than we are.
Years ago, I’d been astounded at a rude person I’d encountered earlier that week. During the umpteenth retelling, I said again, “I just can’t get over it!”
My five-year-old daughter had heard this story several times by now. She looked at me and calmly stated, “Mom. Get over it.” She turned and skipped away merrily.
That was the first time I’d ever considered that “getting over it” was a choice: a simple choice that required a tiny bit of action to turn it off and let it go.
Make a vow to yourself, that no matter what anyone says, you will “Take no offense!”
You might not think you are a person that is quick to be offended. But without a conscious commitment to reject being offended, it’s natural to take offense in the moment and then replay it ad nauseum.
Instead of taking offense, there is a simple approach to handling the incident gracefully. It requires taking a close curious look from two different angles, to learn from and diffuse the incident.
Step 1: Consider it a learning experience for yourself
Maybe, it is all about me!
a. Consider if there is some nugget of truth about yourself or the incident that you have not acknowledged. State it as clearly as possible, without emotion.
- Yep, my feet are bigger than most.
- My boss has a different work style than me so we’re not working well together on this project.
- This class prefers another teacher over me. I’m not sure why….yet.
- My friend doesn’t like my cooking very much.
b. Explore what can I change, if anything? Brainstorm some strategies to try.
- My feet? I’d rather appreciate them than feel bad about them. No change here.
- Why do I keep cooking for someone that doesn’t want me to cook for them?
- Ask for more information to help you understand.
- Explain to someone calmly that it seems rude when they say that.
Step 2: Don’t take it personally
On the other hand, maybe you’re taking something personally that shouldn’t be.
Maybe, it’s not about me, at all!
Someone that behaves in a way that seems rude to you, often has that behavior in general. Maybe he’s not doing it to you. He’s just doing it! Perhaps you were just near him when he did it this time.
a. When you describe the person’s actions, try restating it without you as the object. Be very precise and scrub any exaggeration or extra emotions from the description. Is it as true or truer?
- He always does that to me!
Becomes: He sometimes does that when he’s tired.
- She never eats my cooking.
Becomes: She’s very particular about what she eats.
- She always snaps at me.
Becomes: She snaps at people sometimes when she’s feeling overwhelmed.
- That person was so rude to me at the grocery store last night.
Becomes: That person seemed stressed out and rude. I wonder why.
b. Are there any actions that you can take? Develop some strategies to try. Try something and adjust. See what works.
- I don’t want to hang around with him when he acts like that. So, I’ll tell him that and plan to meet earlier in the day next time.
- I can talk to her about what we should do for dinner. Maybe it would be better if she cooks next time.
- When she snaps at me, I’ll ignore her, I’ll tell her that I don’t appreciate it and/or I’ll move to another room.
- I can choose a less busy time to grocery shop. Dinner time on weekdays is probably when a lot of tired, stressed-out people shop.
Step 3: Appreciate the experience and let it go
When we take this curious, non-emotional approach to an incident, it’s fun!
It gives us an idea of something new to try. We feel more compassionate and more peaceful. The incident itself seems more humorous and more insightful, rather than a source of unending pain.
And that burning desire to keep chastising the ‘incredibly rude people” in the world? We can just let it go.
Step 4: Advanced Level: Nip it in the bud
Once you’ve mastered the ability to skip the ranting completely, consider one more level.
Notice that this whole cycle of ranting and then figuring out how to rant all stems from our initial reaction. Is it possible to nip the problem in the bud and never take offense in the first place? Can you feel the indignation welling up and stop it before it reaches the surface?
Vowing to take no offense is one of the most powerful ways to transform your life. Things that once followed you around and tied you down in negativity at work, at home and over the years, suddenly vanish. You are left feeling amused and free, and bursting with love!
- This week, notice how stories of ‘rude people’ are sprinkled through your week. How does the storyteller act? How do the listeners react? Does one story spur another?
- Make a list of your top ‘rude people’ stories. I think everyone has them. These are the stories you’ve told dozens of times. Use the steps above to learn from them or develop some understanding and compassion for the offender. What value does it bring when you retell that story? Are there any of these stories that could drop off the list …never to be retold again?
- Next time you find yourself in a situation where you could take offense, state to yourself, “Take no offense.” There will be probably be an inner voice that says, “But, blah, blah, blah.” Repeat to yourself, “Take no offense.” Use the steps to consider it a learning experience for yourself or an opportunity to have compassion for someone else. When you feel yourself storing the details of a good story that would be used to ridicule someone, pause. Then, let it go!
“We should be too big to take offense, and too noble to give it.”
- Abraham Lincoln