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Taking Offenses

“I am so offended,” one of my freshman students called out after reading the introductory scene from Romeo and Juliet. I can understand her feeling that way, as it is a particularly misogynistic scene.

“You don’t get to be offended,” I replied to her. She looked at me haughtily, as if I can’t tell her what she can be offended by. “You see,” I continued, “you don’t get to be offended, because it wasn’t written to you, nor was it written about you.” I went on to tell her that she can most definitely find Shakespeare’s scene offensive—because it is—but she doesn’t get to be offended, because she cannot take it personally.

A look of understanding slowly started to wash over her face. The entire classroom’s attitude shifted from feeling victimized by Shakespeare to understanding that the material is offensive, and therefore we can call it that and learn from it. However, all too often, we get offended by people’s words and actions, as if they were directed toward us. 

Being offended is a choice we make when we take something personally. We are often times so incredibly stupid and selfish, that we think everything is about us. Our own past hurts and traumas influence us to expect others to be mean to us on purpose. Once we can see, believe, and understand that most people are also incredibly stupid and selfish, we can come to the realization that most of time, things just aren’t about us. People make decisions based on themselves, their own interests and desires. 

Hanlon's Razor says, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” So, if someone does something that hurts me, it’s probably just because they are stupid, not because they are intentionally trying to hurt me. I would take it a step further and add on to it to say, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by selfishness.” So, if someone does something that hurts me, it’s also probably just because they are selfish, not because they are intentionally trying to hurt me. 

True freedom comes from when you stop thinking that when someone insults you that it has anything to do with you. It has to do with them—their insecurities, their trauma, their fears. Not you. When we fail to realize that people are selfish and stupid, we take offenses that we shouldn’t. 

The craziest part about offenses is how quickly they multiply. Taking an offense usually starts out small. I had an athlete on my team several years ago, and it was clear she didn’t like me. She didn’t listen to me, and it was difficult to get her to do the things I wanted her to do. When we finally had a parent meeting, she brought up something that happened her freshman year. The beginning of that season, I had helped the freshman coach out with a scrimmage. I didn’t even know these girls’ names at the time. Unbeknownst to me, the freshman coach had told this particular girl that she would be playing the whole game. I ran the scrimmage how I normally do, so I played all the girls pretty much equally, allowing them all get some good playing time. That’s when the offense began.

From that day on, this athlete thought I had sat her on the bench on purpose because didn’t like her. Let me remind you that I didn’t even know her name then, much less which position she played or how good she could play. I barely remembered this game, but it had made a permanent imprint on her. She continued in the parent meeting that I would give her dirty looks every time I came in the gym during their practices. When in reality, I have a scowl on my face all the time, and it took me half the season to even learn her name—I didn’t know anything about her still at this point. By the time she got to my team, she had a laundry list of things she felt I had done to intentionally hurt her—joking around with her, correcting her on the court, dress coding her one time, etc. It was because everything I did after that scrimmage, she thought it was personal, and she thought I was doing it on purpose because I didn’t like her.

With more talking, we also discovered that this athlete had a long line of coaches she thought didn’t like her. In the light of those past wounds, she was almost looking for another coach to follow suit with what she had already experienced in the past. Her own hurt and expectations led her to believe that even the smallest slight was directed right at her.

It took a long time and a long apology for her to understand how that one tiny offense was never directed at her. The subsequent things she listed, I did with and to everyone on the team—I joked around with all the girls. I corrected them all on the court. I would dress code any of them if they were wearing something inappropriate for school. It was my own stupidity/ignorance at not knowing what the freshman coach had said that started it all. Had she understood that at the time, or if she had spoken up then about her perceived injustice, the following 2-3 years would have panned out much differently—for her and for me.

When we experiencing a hurt, we must examine the following: 

  1. Unrealistic expectations
  2. Our own trauma and wounds
  3. Assuming malice


When we are able to examine all three of these, we are able to see clearly that we usually don’t have to take an offense, because it’s usually not about us.


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