Each morning before I’ve even had my morning coffee, I grab my smartphone. As I browse through social media I see that someone already has their blood boiling over some topic or other. This is not atypical. We’ve become a culture that feeds ourselves on daily outrage and the constant policing of others’ behavior.
It’s hard to think about life before social media. But I remember that back then we didn’t have access to 24-hour news. We didn’t have constant contact with the world. Our attention wasn’t available at all times of the day and night. I don’t know if we were a calmer society, but we at least turned down the volume for a few hours.
Now, we’re over-stimulated and hyper-vigilant for any misstep. We wait breathlessly with red markers drawn, ready to highlight the comments of anyone who expresses an opinion outside of our acceptable guidelines. In theory, this could be a good thing, we’re simply doing our best to hold people to higher standards. But if everything is deemed outrageous, then it hinders our free expression.
“People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good.” Mark Manson
I have to admit that I too was once swept up in the daily take-offence movement.
Every day I was offended about something new and it was rarely something that affected me directly. I was offended on behalf of other people or groups of people, who were being slighted. I passionately defended them against online strangers whom I’d never interact with in daily life.
As I typed furiously on my smartphone keyboard, I could feel the cortisol and adrenaline pumping through my veins. I felt a certain high sharing my carefully researched facts and felt amped up using that knowledge against what I deemed an inferior opinion. I was prepared to debate back and forth with counter-parries and thrusts. The trolls were all too willing to engage and waste my precious time.
As time went on, I didn’t just come across people who didn’t agree with me, I actively sought out their pages. I’d read news articles with headlines that had me in a state of distress before I even clicked on the link. I was armed, ready to do battle as soon as someone typed a paragraph filled with the contrary opinion I was waiting for. Then at the end of the day, I’d feel fatigued mentally and emotionally. My body would feel like I’d endured several rounds of a brutal fight.
I began to come to a realization.
After weeks of this self-punishment, I finally began to wake up to what I was doing to myself. I started avoiding television shows that further frustrated me and instead began diving deep into comedies so I could enjoy something that brought me joy and made me feel calm instead of irritated.
I realized that spending my days arguing online was taking a physical toll, I was perpetually angered or annoyed with the way people acted or behaved. I saw that they weren’t going to change or behave differently just because I provided facts and reasons why they should view the world in a different way. So what was I effectively achieving besides ruining what little happiness I could have throughout the day? Then one day, it hit me.
There I was in my usual role of feeling offended and busy commenting on a post, when the poster said, “I like to offend people and see them get all in their feelings.” I realized that I was actively taking the bait and giving my power away. I saw then that being offended is a choice.
The problem is, if we become offended by everything then it paralyzes positive action. It closes us off from real discussions and hinders us from dealing effectively with differing opinions.
The offended, becoming offended, by the offended.
People seek to be outraged before trying to find commonality in opinions that differ from theirs. They then choose sides based on those opinions. This is not a positive space.
Instead of trying to understand the origins of what is causing their offense, people attack and try to silence each other. This behavior drives our true thoughts and feelings underground as we walk around on eggshells trying to not be attacked. It encourages us to stay silent and eventually it becomes safer to do this than express our true feelings.
Yes, some things are offensive, but you have a choice of how you react. If you can’t control your reaction you can at least notice it. Use it as an indicator that you need to disconnect from what is about to be a fruitless argument.
How to Not Be Offended:
Try asking yourself some questions:
- Do you think this person has an informed opinion?
- Couldn’t they find the facts as easily as you did?
- What will you accomplish from arguing with them about their position?
- Why does it matter to you?
- Is this person actually trying to hurt you?
- Is their opinion just their opinion and do they have as much right to it as you do?
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
If someone walks through life responding with hostility at every opposite opinion, imagine how many times a day that person must be getting angry. Is that someone you need to get upset over? Do you want to allow them to turn you into them? Just know that it’s not personal to you.
The amount of time you spend interacting with whomever you’re offended by is entirely up to you. It’s arrogant to think that you are solely responsible for their attitude. I guarantee you it existed before they ran into you and has very little to do with you.
Detach your ideas from your identity.
Someone’s rejection of your ideas can feel like a rejection of you if you’re emotionally attached to your beliefs. Often, we aren’t defending the topic, we’re defending the sense of self that we feel isn’t being accepted by another.
When I found myself fighting my hardest, it wasn’t really about the person in front of me. I was fighting the slight I felt towards my intelligence or somewhere else I felt misunderstood in my life. The existing wound was irritated by both the topic and a perceived lack of empathy. I wasn’t trying to teach the person in front of me, I was talking to someone in my past.
Are you addicted to feeling negative emotions?
Is it possible that you’re arguing with this person as a way to blow off steam from something else going on in your life? Are you unloading your stress on an online stranger by hunting for opportunities to be offended? Do you feel better after you get a shot of adrenaline from beating someone down with facts? The online arena can be a virtual Fight Club if that’s how you choose to use it.
Both the stimuli and the ability to be offended can be found at every turn. Many people are willing to give their energy and attention to feelings of outrage and arguing incessantly with no real resolution. But it’s a choice. If you desire inner peace but instead spend your days defending your ideas, then you’re making that peace much harder to achieve.
You could try putting your energy into making a positive change in your life, rather than trying to convince someone else to change their mindset. Thereby transmuting outrage into positive action.
What’s Next? Talk with others. Take action.
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