Jun 242015 3 Responses

If This Offends You, I’m Not Sorry

I don’t want to be offensive. I work hard as a speaker and writer to walk the tightrope of speaking truth (and a lot of opinion), but without being offensive to others. Yet offense is not always avoidable. Sometimes I expect it and even believe it validates what I am saying. At other times I grieve it and desperately wish it had not happened.

The same response (someone being offended) can create radically different responses from me. This isn’t inconsistency. It is the rightful response to what takes place in relationships because the nature of offense is not one-sided. It is multifaceted and whenever we fail to understand the differing nature of offenses, we minimize the impact of our actions and demean the emotions of others.

Three Categories of Offense:

1. I can offend by not taking into consideration the experiences and perspectives of others. Any time another person is offended by us, we must consider the possibility the offense falls into this category. It requires introspection and humility. It demands that we listen to the stories and opinions of others, attempt to understand their perspective, and willingly consider changing our actions or attitudes. Just a willingness to consider this first category would greatly deflate many tensions caused by offense. (See: When Someone Offends You)

2. I can be misunderstood. Someone can unintentionally fail to comprehend my point, or intentionally twist what I say, in order to justify their feelings of being offended. Without a doubt, some people want to be offended. We live in a time in which being offended is the ultimate trump card in society. (See: You Hurt My Feelings) Yet we must be careful not to jump to the conclusion that an offense falls into this category. We should understand the possibility, but not quickly excuse the thoughts of others as a lack of comprehension or an intentional twisting of our intent. We should expect misunderstandings and be quick to communicate (not just talk, but communicate) with other people to clarify what we are trying to accomplish and making sure our actions are resulting in the impact we desire. (See: The Most Common Mistake I Make)

3. I can offend and do so without apology because the truth often trumps emotions. On occasion, less often than we think, offense is necessary. There are times in which the truth hurts and either I need to speak the truth without fear of how some may respond or I need to hear the truth no matter how it makes me feel. This is one of my biggest struggles as a pastor. Jesus and his message was offensive to many people (remember they crucified him for it). The monarchy was offended when we wrote the Declaration of Independence. The South was offended when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. I’m sometimes offended when some rightly confronts my wrong behavior. In some moments, being offended is exactly what I need to feel because it may cause me to reflect on my actions and consider how they impact others. Sometimes the truth hurts me and sometimes I need to let it hurt others.

The struggle is knowing into which category an individual situation falls. It is not always easy to discern, and the more involved we are in a situation, the more we struggle with being objective. (See: A Comprehensive Guide to Dealing with Offensive People)

Notice: We assume an offense is always the other person’s problem.

When we feel offended, we think the other person has done wrong. We never consider that maybe our feelings need to be hurt (category three).

When others feel offended by us, we assume the person is ignorant or evil. We are slow to consider if we might be wrong (category one).

And most dangerously, we fail the discernment necessary to understand which category an offense falls under. For example, racism is a category one offense. Racism is a failure to understand the perspectives and experiences of another. The Cross of Jesus Christ is a category three offense. Many people will not like the message that they are a sinner in need of grace. (See: What I Mean When I Say ‘You Are a Sinner’)

Categories and Degrees

Offenses fall into different categories, but they also happen in different degrees. Not every offense is equally important.

If a person driving down the road has a bumper sticker which I find offensive, I have a right to choose to be offended. But I don’t have a right to assume the driver will take the bumper sticker off his vehicle. I have a right to state my opinion, refuse to be his friend, etc. Yet in the big picture, it is one sticker on one car. While I might be offended, it shouldn’t bother me that much. (See: Why Can’t We See in Ourselves What We See in Others)

However, if a school or church or business is actively promoting something which is deeply hurting other people. And if that idea or symbol does not fall into a category three offense, it is not something I should just shrug my shoulders toward. It is an offense to a deeper degree whenever it is hurting people.

Determining the degree of an offense can assist us in discerning the need for response. I can ignore a bumper sticker, but I probably need to speak against institutional injustice. I can quietly allow a friend to know my feelings toward something they said, but I need to loudly shout on behalf of my daughter when she is being mistreated because of her diagnosis. (See: Sometimes You Need to be a Jerk)

Not every offense is the same. They come in different categories and degrees. We would do well to identify which category an offense falls in and then determine the severity of that offense. Many things are not as big of a deal as we (or social media) makes them to be. But some are. Discernment isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

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3 Responses to If This Offends You, I’m Not Sorry
  1. […] I see it in others. “You offended me,” some will say. Instead of engaging in the debate ... kevinathompson.com/reject-the-role-of-victim
  2. Jay Reply

    My recent experience really led me to seeking out answers, was I wrong about feeling offended? Your blog has always been very thought-provoking and enlightening to me. However my recent experience doesn’t fall into any of the three categories aforementioned in your blog above.
    A date shared his raw opinion about my clothing styles. He stated that he did not like my flowery-dress because it “looked too Asian” to him.
    I wasn’t offended that he didn’t like my dress or style choice. I was offended by his choice of (ignorant?) words because I am 100% Chinese American.
    Although I am insulted by his reasoning, I do not believe he is racist. I cherish him as a great companion but it saddens me to think that he is intolerant to things that might make me “look more Asian”.
    He has told me numerous times that he was speaking the truth and he is not sorry that his truth offended me.
    I would not have taken his opinion personally if he simply didn’t like my floral patterned dress. But I am deeply hurt because his opinion about my dress was based on his other ration, that it “looked too Asian”.
    Is there another internal self-reflection that I’m missing or should he apologize for his rude race-linked criticism?

  3. […] The difficulty of truth is that it creates conflict. As long as I can lie without getting caught, I ... kevinathompson.com/truth-and-commitment

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