Are you easily offended?  Many people are, and it makes them miserable.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  You can control your thoughts.  It isn’t easy, but it can be done.  I write about that in my book, Thought: An Awesome Creative Force.

I encountered two unhappy people today while I was trying to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in a local restaurant.  They both dumped on me.  That’s what unhappy people do; they spread their misery.  “Misery loves company.”  You’ve heard the saying.

One person was on the telephone a couple of tables over, giving someone on the other end of the line a large piece of his unhappy mind.  Judging from the conversation I overheard, he was right to be upset about a situation that caused him considerable inconvenience.

He was highly offended, and he wasn’t shy about letting the other person know it.  And he wasn’t diplomatic either.  As I said, he was completely justified in being upset, but he chose the wrong way, and the wrong place, to react.  

The man in the restaurant was angry, and he continues to be angry.  I know because he came to my table and replayed the whole conversation.  That’s the way people are when they’re offended; they typically spread their bad feeling around.  That makes other people feel bad.

The second person was a family member who left a message on my cell phone.  I returned her call when I got to the car.  She wanted my advice about an incident that hurt her feelings and made her angry.  Someone had been critical of one of her children.  What mother wouldn’t leap to defend her child?  That’s a natural reaction, but calling another person and repeating the incident two or three times just causes her to prolong the bad feelings and spreads them to another person as well.

My family member asked my advice about what she should do.  I gave her my advice, which would have been the same as I would have given to the other person, if he had asked.

My advice: Forget the incident ever happened and forgive the person who offended you.  Never mention it again to the person who offended or any other person either.  The conversation is over and in the past and no amount of anguish can change that.  Bury it.  Forget it.

When you see that person again, don’t mention it.  Act as if it never happened.  Forgiving will give you peace.  It will probably preserve a relationship.

Forgiving allows you to get over it and move on.  Reliving the incident rekindles the fires that offended you, and you live the whole incident over again.  The hurt and anger comes back as strong as it did the first time.  That is self-destructive.  You don’t hurt the other person, you just make yourself miserable all over again.  Why do that to yourself?

You can decide not to be offended.  If you slip up and become offended.  Forgive the other person and forget the incident as quickly as possible.  In a few days you likely will have forgotten all about it, and in six months it won’t be important at all.

A person who takes offense when no offense was intended only hurts themselves.

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Comment by Joan H on January 27, 2013 at 5:55am
You are so right. I grew up in a family who couldn't let go of grudges, or slights, real or imagined. "Let it go" is the best advice I give myself...
Comment by Harvey L. Gardner on January 27, 2013 at 6:02am

Joan, thank for your comment.  Forgiveness is a best gift you will ever give your self.

Comment by Karen McKim on January 28, 2013 at 6:14pm

I'm all for forgiveness: We're all flawed humans; and we're all doing the best we are able (which isn't always good enough.) In addition, we probably each need forgiveness more often than we realize. We don't know when someone else is biting his or her tongue over some stupid thing we've done, so none of us knows for sure how often others find our behavior painful or discomforting. Assume that several times a week, we are each the beneficiaries of someone else's forgiveness--or at least their forbearance.  

However,  the main mistake of the people you ran into today was not likely an unwillingness to forgive. My guess is that both will, in fact, forget about the offenses in a relatively short time, and may well resume the relationships as if nothing happened. I think their mistake was speaking about the offenses before they had taken a moment to call upon their innate empathy. Because they had not yet practiced empathy for themselves or the other, they could not speak with compassion about the things that bothered them. 

Feelings are not like bothersome gnats we can swat away and be done with it. The process of resolving such conflicts, in my experience, involves a period of self-awareness--a minute or a month depending on the offense. That period of self-awareness starts with acknowledging the unpleasant feelings the offending behavior evoked, then labeling them and accepting them without judgement against ourselves.  It's no sin to feel angry when someone has, for example, broken a promise we counted on; allowed us to see our own children through another's unloving eyes; or made our lives more difficult so that theirs could be easier.  Once we non-judgmentally accept our own emotional reaction, we can start to bend our thoughts toward empathy for the other. 

Then, when we feel genuine empathy with both ourselves and the offender, we can--if the offense is serious enough--speak to the other about it and ask for what we want instead. We are doing neither them nor ourselves any favor by keeping them ignorant about how they are--inadvertently in most cases--making our' lives less pleasant.  Life would be pretty miserable if we never spoke to each other about things that cause us discomfort, and never ask for what we want instead. 

Comment by Harvey L. Gardner on January 28, 2013 at 9:11pm

Karen, I agree with all you say, except for your assessment of these two people.  I've known both for a long time, and they both revel in negativity and self-pity, with a real persecution complex.  I've learned to accept them for the way they are, and forgive them when I need to.  However, I always dread seeing them, because they are habitually negative and can't keep it to themselves.

Thank so much for your insight.  It is really helpful.


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