I’m smack dab in the middle of a two-year meditation teacher training course. (Loving it, by the way, and will be offering up meditation training soon!!) As part of the process, I belong to a peer group - a small group of fellow students who meet regularly to discuss "student-y" issues. In January, we were sharing our intentions for the new year, and I was struck hard by the intention shared by one of my fellow students, a woman named Andreja.
Her intention? To be less offended by the world.
She spoke of all the wrongs she—and probably all of us, really—have witnessed, be it the pandemic, racial injustice, environmental devastation, political wranglings... And she realized just how much it was playing against her sense of what was right, what was just, what was fair. As well the price she was paying for allowing herself— over and over again—to get so offended. The slow burn of frustration, the sense of hopelessness, outrage, the despair.
All completely understandable. But none of it very healthy, much less helpful. Can’t we all relate, if not necessarily to the same issues, to some issues that are our personal bugaboos? Taking a red-hot button for these times, let me just drop the word “vaccination” into the mix. Pro or con, I don’t know many of us who haven’t taken a stance on this issue and how little it can take for our conversation to go from pleasant to strained, all with a sense of outrage against either the systems that are forcing us to get vaccinated or against those who believe that vaccinations are more about public health than one's personal freedoms.
I find the topic of “offence” and the taking of it, to be quite interesting. Let’s start with the idea of offending. The Cambridge Dictionary has this to say about the verb, to offend: to make someone upset or angry:
She was offended that she hadn't been invited to the party. He looked offended when you called him middle-aged. If the sight of a few dirty dishes offends you, then I think you're in trouble!
But what makes something offensive to us isn’t just that it’s something negative happening. Most of us don’t bother to get offended by the weather, for example. We know it’s not personal.
“To be offended” is our reaction to the offence. There’s an element there of feeling disrespected and that the offendER is being rude to us. There’s something improper in what just happened, and boy, are we miffed about it. I can see where Andreja was coming from. So much of what is on offer for us in the world today feels (at the very least) rude and disrespectful, if not dangerous and life-threatening. Moreover, there’s a slippery slope to be had, if we are not observant, that we start to take what is not personal, personally. Worse, if we stew in those juices of injustice for too long, we can actually undermine our own sense of agency and can risk a sense of chronic victimisation.
I see this in the athletes I work with, where the idea of being offended is blanketed under the rubric of fairness. When I worked with the US wrestling team back in the day, it was all about how unfair the referee-ing was, particularly if the tournament was held in Eastern Europe. “I am so offended! This is so unfair! We never get a break!” Familiar refrains. Try telling that, however, to the hometown referee and see where that gets you. Nowhere fast, and more likely busted off the mat.
Make no mistake, there are times when our sense of being offended is justified and righteous. This is not about the cause…but its effect on us and what we do or do not do about it. Regardless of whether our cause is big or small, significant or petty, the question becomes one of “right response.”
What can we do about this? What is a “right response?”
Decide If It Really Is Worth Your Time. As seductive as it might be to drink deeply from the fountain of offence, look before you gulp. Take a 200-foot view of the situation, and I mean this (almost) literally. Allow yourself some distance from the heat of whatever situation has you in its thrall…and see if it’s still all that important. Put it into the perspective of all that is important in your life. This is for the athlete or staff member reeling from the injustice of flying coach when the head coach goes business class. Decide to bring it up with management—or not—and then just let it be. Twisting your knickers into a knot about something that in the grand scheme of things isn’t hurting you (as long as it is not) is a waste of your finite energy and well-being.
Make Sure Your Sense of Being Offended Isn’t a Mask for Something Else. This is for the coach who has received some negative feedback from athletes and is stuck on all the ways that his athletes lack the moral justification to make their charges. They have some nerve saying that about ME, what about THEM? We may save our egos by diverting ourselves away from some uncomfortable truth, but it still is a diversion and certainly does not serve those we lead. Great coaches set aside their egos to give any feedback they receive the serious attention it deserves. And respond soon and appropriately. If in the end, there is no merit, at least the coach can present a better counter-response, but only after acknowledging—with genuine appreciation—the gift that feedback invariably is.
Lean In, Examine The Evidence, and Resist Mind Reading. Not everything that happens to us is necessarily about us or directed at us. This is when a teammate walks by you without acknowledging you. Maybe they are upset at you…or maybe they forgot to put in their contact lenses and didn’t see you. Maybe they were preoccupied with the person who just blew them off. Come up with at least five alternative explanations for the behaviour that has put you off. This is a great exercise in offsetting our minds’ natural tendency to go right to the worst-case scenario. While the reality might not be the best-case scenario, there are so many other possibilities in between to consider, most with less negative impact on us. Stepping away from our mind’s tendency to catastrophize is a positive mindset shift.
Take Action. Do Something About It. Going back to the wrestling example, savvy, pragmatic athletes knew what was needed to re-level the playing field and neutralise the referee. Up one’s game. Become that much better a wrestler, that much more fit, that much more determined. Make it as difficult as possible for the referee to play a part. Take them out of the match.
If our outrage is about someone’s behaviour, talk to them about it. If we witness someone else being mistreated, reach out to support them, and if it’s in our power, do our part to help tackle the source of the problem.
Many of the outrages we experience today can feel dishearteningly huge, and we can feel justifiably powerless to respond. “Doing something” may be as small as resolving to learn more about the situation at hand or as simple as being kinder to others in our own worlds. These actions will not in and of themselves fix the outrage but can go some way to helping us. This was Andreja’s response. I realized the cost I was paying for my chronic sense of outrage, and how it was undermining my own health and well-being. I’m hopeful that in taking less offence, I am making my own life less difficult.
Here’s to making your own life less difficult. If this idea resonates with you, but you feel stuck in making that kind of change for yourself, or those you work with, or lead, or coach, please reach out. I can help.
In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on how to achieve the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org