I was in a group setting last night. We were having a really good time until someone made a statement that offended someone else. A bit of back-and-forth and back-pedaling followed, but the damage had already been done and the one who’d been offended left.
I watched helplessly.
I understood why the person took offense, but I was so disappointed that she wouldn’t stick around long enough for the accidental offender to explain what she meant. When the offended one left, it felt as though the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Where there had been laughter and warmth, there was suddenly a vacuum filled with the tinny sounding voices of people trying to recapture the joyful mood that had been there just 5 minutes earlier.
The whole atmosphere had changed.
The rest of us heard the explanation—the intended meaning of the original statement—and it made sense. But, sadly, the woman who left didn’t hear it and perhaps wouldn’t have really heard it even if she’d stayed in the room.
I hate seeing anyone get their feelings hurt. Like all of us, I’ve been the wounded party more times than I can count, so I know how that feels. But I’ve also been the one to cause wounds, and for me that feels even worse; like the time I posted something on Facebook which I meant to be patriotic, but it struck some people as being political and narrow-minded. I still wish I could rewrite that post and the dialogue that followed it.
I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the idea of not taking anything personally. It was a foreign concept when I first heard it, but it interested me so I’ve been experimenting with it. I’ve come to realize that when I choose not to be offended by what someone else says, it doesn’t indicate weakness on my part; it doesn’t make me look like a doormat. Much to the contrary, not taking things personally actually makes me look and feel strong.
I read a long time ago that when you are involved in a disagreement, if you allow yourself to become emotional, you give away your power. I’ve tested this theory and it seems to hold water. I’ve found that if someone pushes my buttons and I get angry or offended, I lose the battle—just like that. But if I can remain calm and try to see the other person’s perspective objectively, it empowers me. By not giving in to feeling offended, my ability to think rationally stays intact. I may spend time thinking about the interaction during the rest of the day, but I’ll think about it without the emotional fallout that could have easily ruined the rest of the day.
Seeing the other person’s perspective requires effort and empathy. Though I’ll never literally walk a mile in anyone else’s shoes, if I can recognize that they have valid reasons for believing what they do, I can hear what they’re saying without believing they’re saying it to hurt me. I can choose to believe what they’re saying is all about them and really has nothing to do with me at all. I can choose to recognize that the opinions they hold have to do with their life experiences, the beliefs ingrained in them by their parents, the wounds they’ve suffered and their exposure to a particular set of educational and cultural influences.
I can recognize that I will never see the world exactly the way they do, and they will never see it exactly the way I do. And that’s okay.
So I’ll make an effort to give others this grace and I hope they’ll do the same for me.
Perhaps then we’ll be less likely to feel slighted or spited or misunderstood.
And maybe the end of a conversation can just be the end of a conversation—not the end of a battle.
No winners, no losers, just people speaking their minds.
Photo by Kyle Broad via Unsplash