Let’s say you’re sitting around swimming pool and someone tells a joke about a group everyone knows you belong to. Or let’s say someone doesn’t know something about (like that you alphabetize soup cans in your pantry at home) and makes a joke about people who alphabetize soup cans in their pantry. In one case, you can pretty well assume they meant to offend you, personally, while in other, it was unintentional.
Let’s talk about this sort of offending occurrence – not a direct attack about you in particular, or some sort of feedback, construed to be “positive,” where a quick reply is in order, but sort of passive affront that sometimes occurs.
What do you do when someone says something offensive?
If it occurred in workplace, and could be construed as harassment, you might have certain legal rights, but they certainly don’t extend to a public recreational area. Laws define what a society considers unacceptable but they never stop them, otherwise there would be no murders. Furthermore, you’d be surprised at what law considers “harassment.” So, let’s move this to individual and emotional level.
It’s a sad fact of life that you don’t have a global right not to be offended, but corollary is, no one can offend you unless you agree to it.
You’re more likely to be offended, more truth there is to what they say, in reference to you, and it can be a clue to look into your issues. I live in Texas, where for some people Civil War is still being fought, and it used to bother me when someone would make a reference to Northerners being “cold” and “unfriendly.” The more I’ve learned to express my warmth and friendliness in ways recognizable to Texans and more importantly, to be comfortable in my own skin, less those comments bother me. Now I can just smile and think, “not me,” while before I had to wonder how I was coming across.
As philosopher Epictetus wrote many years ago, “It is not he who gives abuse that affronts, but view that we take of it as insulting; so that when one provokes you it is your own opinion which is provoking.”
You can learn not to take offense. One of people I learned this through was Jewish physician sitting at an Ecumenical conference I attended where someone stood up and talked about Christmas, then caught himself, and turned to physician and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t offend you.”
The doctor smiled and replied, very, very gently, “Me? You can’t offend me.”
That rather puts shoe on other foot.
I will occasionally defend myself as part of group under attack, like time my neighbor – and I don’t know what he was thinking – started in about apartment complex to be built in vacant acreage behind our houses. “It will be full of single parents with out-of-control kids, who don’t take care of their property,” he ranted.
“I’m a single parent,” I said. “And my kids aren’t out-of-control and I take care of my property.” One might just as well reply, “I’m XXX and I don’t beat my wife,” or “I have a good friend who’s from XXX, and he’s very friendly.” You can always point out one example you know that’s different. No generalization applies to anything and everything, and people who think that way need to have their thinking correcting. If only at intellectual level.
The crux of matter is not to buy into it emotionally, not to take bait. When we get emotional, we lose our ability to think, and then things get said. It also leaves us angry, upset, and harboring resentment. There are few ways to reply back to an offense that don’t leave you in a worse emotional state. That includes going back over it in your own mind if you DON’T speak up and berating yourself because you didn’t. It’s a perfectly viable alternative to decline comment and disengage.