Do You Get Tired of Being Offended?

June 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm (psychology)

I wrote this for xoJane but it never ran, so here it is!

I wrote a post at xoJane recently about something that bugged me, and one of the responses was “Well, if you’re offended by _____, do I get to be offended at _______?” My answer was “Sure, knock yourself out, be offended by whatever you like”, but something about that comment stuck in my craw, and it took me days to realize that it seemed like the person was actively looking for something to be offended by, was anticipating the joy of judging a piece of pop culture creation in some weird Mr. Burns-ish way and finding it repugnant.

I am tired of people relishing being offended.

There have been recent posts at The New York Times and at xoJane that speak to the concept of outrage fatigue beautifully, so I won’t rehash their brilliant points, but I will say this: if you find yourself being offended or annoyed on a regular basis, the problem may be you.

I was a practicing therapist for six years, and in those years, the concept clients (and myself) had the hardest time accepting is the idea that the only thing you can control in life would be your own feelings and actions. You cannot control what anyone else does, your only choice when it comes to other people is how you react to them. Period.

If you think the world is completely fucked, if you think it’s full of terrible things, if you think that men just don’t know how to treat a lady these days, if you think that friendship ought to be different than it is- these are not cues that the world needs to change, but rather, possibly a cue that your values and perspectives need updating.

Because you know who is affected by you being offended and annoyed? You. You might reject or insult someone based on your annoyance, but ultimately, it’s you who is eaten up inside by your negative feelings. What we’re usually upset about when something offends us is our lack of control in the big scary world around us. We may say “If it were up to me, things would be like _______ because I believe in _______”, but until you have the ability to be omniscient and control people’s minds, it won’t be up to you. It never will. Values are not hardwired into your being, they are paradigms that you take on based on cues around you and adjust throughout life- and sometimes, we forget that they are adjustable.

I’m going to get a ton of comments that say “Oh, I guess nothing bothers you then”, and let me address those future comments now: of course things bother me. The inspiration for this piece was being annoyed at something. I’m not saying that the goal of life is to be like some indie movie character, adorably Amelie-like in your ability to be happy forever. What I am saying is that I want everyone to feel as satisfied and content with how they interact with the world as they possibly can, and if you find yourself unsatisfied with the world the majority of the time, your two choices are to 1) become a hermit (but who wants to have to grow and maintain a beard?) or 2) adjust your perspective. At the very least, I’d like for us all to stop relishing being righteously angry, an emotion that has no official name and yet completely exists. So maybe it’s time to think about what our values are.

So let’s do that now, with a Personal Declaration of Values. These are good exercises for anyone, happy or unhappy. Start writing down the things that are important to you in life, the values you hold.

I value…

being able to make decisions for myself freely

being treated with the respect that I am able to make decisions for myself without help

doing nice things for people I care about

animals

being loyal to the person I love

gossip, as long as it is not spread maliciously

It’s important that your values be about you, and not about what other people should be doing. As a professor once told me, “Don’t should all over yourself”. Sure, people should do a million things, but we’re not talking about people, we’re talking about you. If you find yourself full of values for how other people should live, drop back and start focusing on you again. You know, the one person you can control.

Perhaps you think this is a simplistic way of looking at things, and perhaps it is, but I do know that once I realized that I had been imposing my own arbitrary moral code on other people, and that it wasn’t my job to judge their behavior, I felt relieved. Beyond that, I felt happy. The only thing I hate more than being offended is how lame it feels to have my emotions decided by someone else’s bonehead actions. If you’re shocked and annoyed by others’ behavior on a regular basis, it might be time for your to step back and re-calibrate yourself and your values. It might help with those stress lines between your eyebrows.

No offense.

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4 Comments

  1. Sarah Wise said,

    I just shoulded all over myself!

  2. M said,

    I should myself daily. Good post.

  3. Anna Cruze said,

    thank you. I needed this so much after today.

  4. CM said,

    I have to be honest, when I read the first paragraph before the cut, I got really annoyed. The way you phrased your initial point sounds an awful lot like the phrases many people use to derail someone trying to tell them they did something offensive or hurtful. “Oh you are just looking for something to be offended by” “oh you just want to be upset about something” etc.

    I kept reading because, although I don’t know you personally, I listen to your podcast, read your articles, and generally appreciate the ways you address issues of homophobia, misogyny, racism, and other forms of oppression in media and pop-culture. As I read on, I began to understand the point you were making. I offer this, though, as an important thing to think about: It is easy for me, a white, cisgender, straight, educated, married, male bodied, young person to curate a world in which the people around me and the world around me fits within and respects my personal values. This is able to happen because I hold many identities that are positioned as dominant in this culture, and so those identities are valued and respected, which means that I will have an easier time finding people willing to respect me and align with my values.

    Were I to be a Trans*, Queer, Poor, Disabled, Fat, Woman of Color, the likeliness that people would be willing to respect my personal values (or even my value as a person) decreases drastically. Even in many spaces that work actively to fight racism, there can still be a very heavy current of homophobia, trans*phobia, fat phobia, ableism, etc. So even finding spaces that respect the personal value related to one part of those identities can still devalue many of parts of who someone is and make them not feel valued in those spaces.

    So the point I am trying to make is, even if and when all of a persons values relate back to their inherent value as a person and are not about how other people should be or act, the more marginalized identities a person holds, the slimmer the chances are that they will be able to find spaces in which or people with whom they feel valued, supported, respected, and loved. And in many of those instances, facing spaces where one does not feel any of those things, and in fact experiences the polar opposite of those things, it is increasingly easy to continually be hurt, offended, and upset.

    I agree with you that being angry just for the sake of being angry isn’t helpful to anyone, but I also think its important to acknowledge that many people experience a lot of things in their life that are grounds to be justifiably angry, and often those happen every day, all around them, even from the people to whom they are closest. Being able to access spaces where you value yourself and other people appreciate that value is a privilege, and one many people aren’t afforded. If you can do everything you can to try and create a space of respect for the people around you, and understand how to value them as a person, then you are not only going to probably get offended less, but you will also probably be creating a space of love and respect that means a lot to someone else.

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