Last year, one of my friends sent me a message: “Read this. Mind.Blown.” in reference to this blog posting: The Art of Not Being Offended. I read it. My mind wasn’t blown. I disagreed with nearly all of the post. Since my disagreement is not synonymous with “the writer is wrong,” I decided to ruminate on it a bit. I still thought it had no merit. After a few days, I didn’t think anything more about it.
Lately, however, I’ve seen it making fresh rounds on Facebook. At least 6 of my friends have re-posted links to this blog in the past month or so. Smart people. People I tend to respect. So, I dove back in for a re-read; perhaps I had missed something previously.
Nope. The TL;DR of my opinion is this: “The Art of Not Being Offended” is unsourced mystical woo, full of privilege, & inane bullshit, which in and of itself is offensive.
Want more than the TL;DR? Let’s get to the fisking:
There is an ancient and well-kept secret to happiness which the Great Ones have known for centuries. They rarely talk about it, but they use it all the time, and it is fundamental to good mental health. This secret is called The Fine Art of Not Being Offended.
The blog post begins with a huge red flag: a bullshit appeal to authority. An authority who isn’t sourced. It’s Greatsy and Onesy, and ancient (centuries! centuries, mind you!). And they have secrets!! You want the secrets don’t you? Especially since knowing this secret will get you good mental health.
In order to truly be a master of this art, one must be able to see that every statement, action and reaction of another human being is the sum result of their total life experience to date. In other words, the majority of people in our world say and do what they do from their own set of fears, conclusions, defenses and attempts to survive.
People say and do things based on their life experiences? Also, did you know that water is wet? I see the rudimentary logic of this statement, but once again it’s unsourced. Get used to that. But in the meanwhile, let’s see where this is headed…
Most of it, even when aimed directly at us, has nothing to do with us. Usually, it has more to do with all the other times, and in particular the first few times, that this person experienced a similar situation, usually when they were young.
Whoa there. Most of what people say to me or do to me has nothing to do with me? Most? Even when aimed directly at me? Nope. The first bit of this makes no fucking sense, and is, again, unsourced. When you add in the second bit, you really lose me. The blog author is making the huge (unsourced) leap between life experiences shaping what a person says and does into life experiences being a logic trap of cause/effect, action/reaction from which there is no learning or no escape. Your first exposure to any given situation, usually when you were young, is your rubric from then on. But don’t let that worry you, because even if it’s aimed directly at you, it’s got nothing to do with you. Savvy?
Yes, this is psychodynamic.
Hmmm… an unsourced, undefined word. Presented with that “Yes, this is…” so naturally you’ll agree. And it sounds fucking fancy. What is it?
In psychology, a psychodynamic theory is a view that explains personality in terms of conscious and unconscious forces, such as unconscious desires and beliefs. In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud proposed a psychodynamic theory according to which personality consists of the id (responsible for instincts and pleasure-seeking), the superego (which attempts to obey the rules of parents and society), and the ego (which mediates between them according to the demands of reality). Psychodynamic theories commonly hold that childhood experiences shape personality. Such theories are associated with psychoanalysis, a type of therapy that attempts to reveal unconscious thoughts and desires. Not all psychologists accept psychodynamic theories, and critics claim the theories lack supporting scientific data. Other theories of personality include behavioral and humanist theories.
Color me surprised (read: not at all) at the “lack supporting scientific data” bit.
But let’s face it, we live in a world where psychodynamics are what make the world go around.
Um, no. Psychodynamism, as we know from the above definition of psychodynamic theory, is at best one of the branches of psychological thought & theory. So I am not buying the premise that a psychological theory of unproven scientific merit is the “let’s face it” mechanism behind the mental functioning of the world.
An individual who wishes to live successfully in the world as a spiritual person really needs to understand that psychology is as spiritual as prayer. In fact, the word psychology literally means the study of the soul.
As a non-believer, these statements means fuck all to me. As a person who values clear and well-defined communication, these statements not only mean fuck all to me, but are academically offensive. Sure, the Greek “psyche” means soul (or breath or spirit). But every single dictionary and reputable psychological journal I could find defines psychology as “the study of the mind.” The writer here is deliberately using the “literal” (and totally archaic) translation purely because it benefits their larger (unsourced) message.
All of that said, almost nothing is personal. Even with our closest loved ones,our beloved partners, our children and our friends. We are all swimming in the projections and filters of each other’s life experiences and often we are just the stand-ins, the chess pieces of life to which our loved ones have their own built-in reactions.
Bullshit. All interactions between two (or more) individuals are personal interactions. Frankly, this idea that the only “real” feeling or function between one person and their “stand-ins” is skirting pretty damn close to an actual symptom of psychopathy.
This is not to dehumanize life or take away the intimacy from our relationships, but mainly for us to know that almost every time we get offended, we are actually just in a misunderstanding.
Oh sure, I’m a chess piece swimming around (can they do that?) as a stand-in, caught in my loved ones’ action/reaction psychodynamic trap but there’s nothing de-humanizing or non-intimate about that. RIIIIIIGHT. And wait, where the hell did misunderstandings suddenly come from? Is it because the writer could sense how offended I was at being a) dehumanized, then b) told I wasn’t being de-humanized? Oh, my misunderstanding: I’m an intimate, swimming, human chess piece.
A true embodiment of this idea actually allows for more intimacy and less suffering throughout all of our relationships. When we know that we are just the one who happens to be standing in the right place at the right psychodynamic time for someone to say or do what they are doing—we don’t have to take life personally. If it weren’t us, it would likely be someone else. This frees us to be a little more detached from the reactions of people around us.
Nothing quite fuels intimacy like detachment. Except privilege? Because, hey, nothing in life is to be taken personally. That kid whose parents kicked him out of the house for being gay or trans*? That woman whose partner beat the shit out of her? That cop who just killed a black kid in a hoodie? Don’t be offended. Don’t take it personally. Those people were just in the wrong fucking psychodynamic place at the wrong fucking psychodynamic time. Just detach from the reactions of all those people around you who are finding these actions wrong. They’re the ones adding to the suffering, by misunderstanding. If it’s not you, it’s someone else, so IT’S ALL GOOD.
How often do we react to a statement of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might actually be hurting? In fact, every time we get offended, it is actually an opportunity to extend kindness to one who may be suffering—even if they themselves do not appear that way on the surface.
IN FACT, by being offended, we’re failing to see the pain of those parents, who have to put up with having a gay or trans* kid. And the man who beat the shit out of his partner? HIS PAIN. It needed an outlet. And don’t forget the pain of that cop for shooting a black kid. Can you imagine how he must have felt? Let’s extend kindness to all these loathsome fucks.
All anger, all acting out, all harshness, all criticism, is in truth a form of suffering. When we provide no Velcro for it to stick, something changes in the world. We do not even have to say a thing. In fact, it is usually better not to say a thing.
Because World History has shown that only through quiet hoping does progress get made. Just think how much farther we could have progressed as a society if everyone were privileged, Teflon, intimate, swimming, human chess pieces. Instead of Velcro malcontents, bringing suffering by trying to actively get equality for all.
People who are suffering on the inside, but not showing it on the outside, are usually not keen on someone pointing out to them that they are suffering. We do not have to be our loved one’s therapist. We need only understand the situation…
What? The writer now makes a statement I can almost agree with? Out of the blue? (Okay, that part did have me Mind.Blown. for a moment there.)
…and move on. In the least, we ourselves experience less suffering and at best, we have a chance to make the world a better place.
And, they lost me again. Because the motivation for allowing your loved one some agency and autonomy for working through something unspoken is to experience less suffering for yourself. And that act (detaching yourself from your loved one) can make the world a better place. What? And no. I’m fairly certain that’s not how love works.
This is also not to be confused with allowing ourselves to be hurt, neglected or taken advantage of. True compassion does not allow harm to ourselves either. But when we know that nothing is personal, a magical thing happens. Many of the seeming abusers of the world start to leave our lives.
So, that woman in my example above, if she just rises above it all and doesn’t take it personally, and leaves so she won’t be hurt, neglected, or taken advantage of, her abusive partner will just get out of her life? He won’t, like, show up one day at the school where she teaches and kill her, himself, and a student just for good measure? Cuz, I’m pretty sure that happened, just last month. How fucking magical.
Once we are conscious, so-called abuse can only happen if we believe what the other is saying. When we know nothing is personal, we also do not end up feeling abused. We can say, “Thank you for sharing,” and move on. We are not hooked by what another does or says, since we know it is not about us.
Oh look, let’s restate what we just said, but with the stipulation that if you disagree with this blog posting and experiencing “so-called abuse”, you’re likely not conscious.
When we know that our inherent worth is not determined by what another says, does or believes, we can take the world a little less seriously.
Sure you can. You can also take it more seriously, since so much of “the world” is designed to deny inherent worth of many individuals. If you haven’t experienced that denial, you are a poster child for privilege.
And if necessary, we can just walk away without creating more misery for ourselves or having to convince the other person that we are good and worthy people.
I mean, it’s well documented that, for instance, battered women are always able to simply walk away from an abusive relationship, free from misery. Oh wait, not it’s not.
The great challenge of our world is to live a life of contentment regardless of what other people do, say, think or believe.
Silly me. I thought the great challenge of the world was to strive for equality and liberty and autonomy for all. Or for economic freedom for all. Or education. Or literally, anything other than selfish focus on personal contentment. Man, privilege really makes people self-centered and nasty.
The fine art of not being offended is one of the many skills for being a practical mystic. Though it may take a lifetime of practice, it is truly one of the best kept secrets for living a happy life.
Again with the woo talk. What the hell is a practical mystic and why would I want to be one? Will it make me one of the ancient Great Ones? Will I then possess all the secret knowledge?
This writer supposes, I believe rather falsely, that offense is an on-off binary switch. And that the world would be a better place, and individuals would have contentment and good mental health by keeping the switch in the “off” position. So, you have Offended/Not Offended, where Not Offended is preferred. Again, I ask, what the fuck? Someone spits in my mouth, for instance. According to this writer, I would be a happier person if I walk away, detaching myself from further abuse of this variety, while not being offended. I need to understand the psychodynamic pain my abuser was in, and not take this action personally. To me, that’s straight-up lunacy. I would be happier seeing them in jail for assault and making sure my lawyer got their full-fucking genome for my doctors to analyze to make sure I wasn’t just given a horrible disease.
I would counter (and just as this writer makes claims without evidence, so shall I–all’s fair) that a spectrum exists with “greatly pleased” on one end and “greatly offended” on the other, with “apathy” in the middle. Life is rarely a full on binary choice, even when it seems otherwise. That’s why the term “false dichotomy”
exists. If someone spits in my mouth, I will be greatly offended and pursue justice for myself. If someone accidentally steps on my foot, I’m unlikely to be offended at all–unless they’re aware they stepped on my food and don’t apologize. Then I’m still not offended they stepped on my foot, but I’m mildly offended by their rudeness.
Bottom line, and without any woo or psychobabble, I would be able to accept a premise that links mental health to interpersonal reactions. I think most people would accept this intuitively. Why else would people tend to agree that certain responses are “over-” or “under-reactions”? But that’s not the premise here. The premise is always making the choice for “Not Offended.”
There has been so much pushback lately against being offended. Terms like “special snowflake” get thrown around. Accusations of people being “butthurt” for no reason, etc. Give me a fucking break. All I hear in these cases is “but mah privilege…”
People being offended have contributed much positive change to the world. I was part of a group of offended people who protested and got the racist confederate flag removed from the State House grounds in SC a couple of years ago. That made me a lot happier, a lot more content, than I would have been sitting around being all un-offended that a racist icon was being displayed, trying to understand the psychodynamic pain of the racists, waiting for their abuse to magically go away since it was all a misunderstanding.