Apr 182013 7 Responses

When Others Offend You (or What to do When Your 4 year-old Flips You Off)

It was a simple Tweet which linked to Facebook. It was about priorities. It was a reminder to my sinful heart.

“Marriage before kids,” is the proper order of priorities. It is tempting to place the needs of our children before the needs of our marriage. It happens every day. I have to remind myself not to do it.

“Kids before marriage,” is such a common order of importance. Children need us and our spouses should be able to take care of themselves. Yet when we put our kids before marriage, “both lose.” The good news is when we put our marriage before kids, “both win.”

That was the post, “Kids before marriage, both lose; marriage before kids, both win.” It was a simple reminder to me and anyone who follows me on Twitter or is my friend on Facebook.

The message was quickly favorited, Retweeted, liked and shared. It seemed to speak to the heart of many people. But then someone commented on Facebook. I didn’t understand their comment. Then another. And then another. Three comments in a row that confused me. I couldn’t figure out what they were reading. My wife sent me a text, “I think you need to re-word that.” I couldn’t figure out what she talking about. The message is one of deep truth.

And then I saw it.

What I read as a proper order of priorities could also be read as a statement about chronology. Chronology isn’t bad. It’s wise for marriage to precede having children. However, having a child before marriage doesn’t make someone lose. And one decision doesn’t define someone’s entire life.

What was intended to say one thing was read to say something completely different. It could have led to anger, shame, guilt, frustration, broken relationships and a whole host of other outcomes. One simple Tweet which could be read two ways.

So it is with communication. It seems so simple, yet it’s extremely difficult. Part of its difficulty is how easy we think it is.

Because communication is difficult, whenever someone says something which is offensive, we must consider three possibilities:

They could have misspoke. It happens all the time. We say something we don’t mean or we say something out of context. As someone who does public speaking on a weekly basis I’m very aware of how often this happens. Many of us are prone to our mouths speaking faster than our brains are thinking and it can lead to us misspeaking.

I could have misunderstood. Just as no speaker is perfect, neither is every listener. We listen assuming we know what is coming next. This habit causes us to often misunderstand what is being communicated. I often have someone call me after a sermon telling me something I said and I encourage them to listen to the sermon again because I didn’t say what they think I said. It is very easy to misunderstand what someone is saying and because of this we must be careful in assuming that we always understand properly.

It could have two different meanings. As my Tweet illustrates, some things can be read two different ways. Down the street from my house is a hotel with a questionable reputation. Over the past year, many arrests have been made for drugs and prostitution. The name of the hotel is “Hotel Pure.” I always say the owners can keep the name if they added proper punctuation, “Hotel, pure?” Same words, but different meaning. Many of the words we use mean different things to different people. Understanding alternative meanings can save a lot of relationships.

Whenever someone says something offensive, there are at least three possibilities which would make their words less offensive. Considering these options are necessary if we want to be fair to others and they are things we would hope others would consider when we have said something offensive.

My son currently has a problem—he keeps flipping me off. It’s not his intention. He doesn’t understand what he is doing. He is trying to point but he hasn’t figured out which finger is appropriate so he keeps using his middle finger. It’s innocent and cute. Of course I’m correcting it.

We live in a society where it is inappropriate to point with one’s middle finger. It communicates a message which is mean and derogatory. Yet when my son does it, the meaning is different. Before I judge his actions I have to consider his heart.

The same consideration my son needs, I need. The same consideration I need, others need.

Marriages would change if we offered our spouse’s this consideration. Workplaces would be different if we would pause and offer kindness to others. Politics could be useful if we actually tried to understand what people mean instead of twisting their words into what we want them to have said.

So, if you read something offensive from me, before you write me off as a jerk, pause and consider if I misspoke or you misunderstood or if what I said could have another meaning. And if my son flips you off, forgive him and look at where he is pointing.

7 Responses to When Others Offend You (or What to do When Your 4 year-old Flips You Off)
  1. […] 1. I can offend by not taking into consideration the experiences and perspectives of others. Any t... kevinathompson.com/if-this-offends-you-im-not-sorry

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