Keep Calm Even When Offended

I don't know if it is just me, but it feels like people are more sensitive lately- actually I’m sure it’s not just me.  A lot of things can now be taken as offensive regardless of context or intent. I have had my share of experiences with people who intentionally tried to offend me, but it is a completely different situation when compared to instances when people solely subjectively feel offended. I discovered “microaggression” was an actual thing.  In this article, I want to discuss how and why people offend others, get offended, and how to keep your cool when dealing with intentionally offensive individuals.  


First of all, what does it mean to “offend” someone?  This definition is straight from Google; “annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one's standards or principles”.


Right away, I noticed the term “perceived insult”. By this definition intent apparently does not matter, it all depends on how the other person perceives your actions. Which honestly raises even more questions like; if it's all about how it is perceived, how can it be avoided? Are some perceived offenses more important than others?  What if someone gets offended because you are offended? Do the offenses cancel out? It is because of this subjective nature that makes this topic so interesting!


Here is something that happened to me not that long ago.  I was out with a buddy of mine at a friend's birthday celebration at a local bar. She had her boyfriend with her, and he brought along people I’d assume were his friends- might be wrong. It was a chill celebration. We had multiple rounds of drinks, talked and laughed. It was pretty civil and fun until we all had to leave.


The night was still young, so we planned on checking out a different bar. As we stood outside deciding on where to go, the birthday girl came out to thank us for coming and I noticed one of the guys was behind her. So here is where it got weird. After we said our goodbyes and turned around, the guy behind her yelled the N-word at us.


We came to a stop and turned around not sure if we heard him right. I’m African and my buddy’s Black. I lived in Africa for most of my life, but I knew this man was indeed trying to be offensive. I simply saw him as a racist fool/ drunk (your choice), but my buddy was already walking towards him with his fists clenched.


The streets at this time were always patrolled, and I knew it would not end well if a fight broke out. I reluctantly had to stop my friend from punching this man’s teeth in, because the look on his face showed he wanted to provoke us into acting up. If I had not stopped him, he would have likely been arrested or worse. 


My point is that there are and will always be individuals out there who intend to offend- frankly more than I’d like.  

An (objective) offense requires an offender, offended, and most important of all- intent. I do not believe that offense is separate from intent, but some individuals seem as though they rarely get offended. These guys always appear calm and collected in most situations even when the hostility of the offender is as plain as day.

I see offense as having 6 components: The offender. Intent. Offense. Perception. Offended. Response.

Offense does not exist without intent, though things can be perceived as offensive- hence “microaggressions”, but the magnitude of your response is solely based on your judgment.


Why do people’s response to offense differ widely? 


One major factor is your identity. People instantly get tense when their identity under attack. This is because something they consider valuable enough to invest in is being threatened. Since different people have different value hierarchies, they respond in varying magnitudes based on what is being attacked.


For example, I love to cook and I can make a mean steak. Imagine someone insulted my cooking, I would definitely take offense to that but my response would pale in comparison to someone like Gordon Ramsay if the exact same thing were said to him. Kind of a scary thought.  Your identity is not only comprised of your natural traits and gifts, but also anything you have invested your time and effort into. 


An individual who does not like cooking would not care if his cooking is insulted, and by the same token, would not care if he inadvertently insults someone else's cooking. It is not as though he intended to be offensive, but since he does not consider cooking as a part of his identity, he would not have perceived it as offensive if the same thing were done to him.


The next factor would be Experience. Imagine you just saw someone get stabbed in the arm with a blade. How would you react? How about if you were the one who got stabbed?  Panic, fear, desperation, rage, are probably some of the emotions you may feel and energetically express. 

Now imagine how a trained military veteran would react in that situation. Probably the complete opposite of you. Why is that? It is because he has probably experienced the same thing before, or likely worse.

You may think people overreact or are too sensitive, but it might be because you have been through something much worse that their situation appears minute in comparison. Obviously the pain stays the same. The veteran would still feel the same amount of pain when stabbed as a civilian would, but the difference would be their level of tolerance which helps them act calmly.


I am not implying that we should tolerate offensive acts, especially when the intent is present, but there are individuals in this world who intend to hurt you and you need to respond in a manner free from consequence. Someone once said this to me;

 “Your outlook on life affects your mental and physical state, so why not choose to see things positively?”.

More than enough people will want to offend you, so there is little reason to feel offended based solely on subjective perceptions. Keep a positive outlook and keep moving forward!


The Confident Man. 2020.

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