A wise woman named Jill once said, “Persons who take offense do much more harm than those who give offense.” To which we can all say “Attagirl, Jill. You’re absolutely right.”
Just think about it. Count the number of persons you know who are real stinkers. We all have a few offense-givers in mind, but they are vastly out-numbered by those tender souls who take offense because of real or imagined slights, insults, and other actions.
Each day, thousands (perhaps millions) of persons take offense at God. Their common cry: “Why me, Lord?” When something large or small goes wrong in their lives, these pitiful creatures seem incapable of realizing that God did not deliberately choose them as an objective of His or Her wrath. Haven’t these folks ever heard of fate, luck and happenstance?
You will note that persons who blame God for their troubles seldom credit God for the good fortune that comes their way. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve heard of someone shouting “Why me, Lord?” after winning the lottery or being the sole survivor of a traffic accident.
Many of today’s TV programs could not exist without people who have taken offense. Judge Judy and the other courtroom shows are flooded with persons who have been offended by someone’s dog, or their driving, infidelity, failure to pay, lying and other evil acts. The same goes for Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer. For their guests, they must rely on offended persons looking for justice, i.e., revenge.
Taking offense is getting more dangerous with each passing day. That’s because of our national gun culture. Before long, if we believe that the checkout clerk at the grocery store has made an 8-cent error in our bill, we’ll be well-advised not to take offense and question the clerk. Chances are she’ll have a .38 caliber pistol tucked inside her blouse, and would love to wave it at us. (The pistol, not her blouse.)
Back in Toledo in 1962 I was given a frightening lesson in the risk of taking offense and then showing it. I was driving to work when a big old Cadillac pulled out of a side street and cut me off. I took immediate offense and gave a blast on my horn. I caught up with the Caddy at the next red light. I made the mistake of pulling alongside him. I was suddenly face to face with the toughest, meanest-looking dude in the city. He snarled at me, “Why don’t you go BLEEP yourself?!!” He seemed ready to exit his car and climb into mine. From that day forward I have refrained from taking offense at other motorists. Or at least exhibiting it.
Taking offense is usually a manifestation of ego. “How dare you do or say such a thing to me? Don’t you know how important or special I am?” The answer to that question is usually “No. How special are you?” Life becomes simpler and more enjoyable when we put our egos on the back shelf, where they won’t be easily hurt.
For offenses that simply can’t be forgotten or ignored, it’s wise to make no response at the time the insult or grievance is rendered. Just be patient. This was beautifully exhibited in the film “Godfather I” by Robert Duvall, legal counselor to Don Corleone. Duvall was sent to Hollywood to ask a bigtime producer to grant Corleone a personal favor. The producer flew into a rage. He stood above Duvall and cursed him, Corleone, the Mob and Italians in general. Instead of reacting to the insults, Duvall quietly finished his meal, thanked the producer, and left for the airport. Several days later, the producer awoke to find the head of his favorite prized race horse lying in his bed. This was a classic illustration of the adage, “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.” Or another useful piece of advice, “Don’t get mad. Get even.”
On a less vindictive note, let me refer you to a best-selling author whose writings my son Jim recently introduced me to. He is Don Miguel Luis, a 62-year-old Mexican known for his life-affirming teachings. One of his books is called “The Four Agreements,” a group of principles for daily life. One of them goes like this:
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” I like that. It sounds much like Stoicism. Refusing to take offense is not easy, and never will be. But when achieved, the payoffs are enormous.