Giving and Taking Offense

Angry face

“Think before you speak” is a handy proverb I grew up with. For the most part it’s a nice way of saying don’t be tactless or inane. But in shorthand it’s probably better known by the aphorism “better to be thought an idiot than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Culturally speaking we’re in a new day and age though where not only is any thought encouraged to be spoken out loud (“I’m just saying”, “I won’t apologize for being blunt”, #nofilter, “don’t be a snowflake”, and a host of others), but we’re also encountering a phenomenon that believes in almost absolute censorship in the event someone’s feelings are compromised.

Because social media makes any joke accessible to any other human, context markers are lost. And because any tweet is shared instantly with millions, we sometimes forget that perhaps that speaker wasn’t talking about our immediate condition.

In other words, we’ve lost the ability to censor ourselves intelligently, and the ability to not turn everything we read into a personal attack. What’s worse is that this is no longer an online phenomenon, it’s invaded our real lives and our personal conversations.

I read a blog post recently titled, “If Someone With Chronic Illness Says They’re Tired, Please Think Before Responding, ‘Me Too'”, and reading the title filled me with an overwhelming helplessness. Now we can’t even relate to someone about the most common condition of being TIRED?

Of course, this title could be altered to accommodate any overly fatigued group. You could insert “children” in place of “Chronic Illness”. You could insert “three jobs”. You could insert “PTSD”. Truth is, there’s no end of ways to be justifiably and excessively tired.

But what happens when we begin preemptively censoring others is that we’ve largely missed the point of communal living. Which is that “me too” is relational, not selfish. It’s sharing the human condition where we all admit that we get run down during the day.

Now, I’ll admit as a chronic illness participant myself that I absolute adore “winning” at being exhausted, and in my lesser moments over the past decade+ of being an arthritic, I’ve definitely gloried in making someone feel at least a small degree of shame at attempting to relate to my fatigue.

But this is not the person I aspire to be. To borrow one of my absolute favorite quotes by Mark Haddon in A Spot of Bother, “…it occurred to him that there were two parts to being a better person. One part was thinking about other people. The other part was not giving a toss about what other people thought.”

To be brief: Value the fatigue of others, and don’t value their opinion of your fatigue. What’s neat about this phrase is you can change out fatigue with whatever you choose. For example: “Value the feelings of others, and don’t value their opinion of your feelings.”

Communal living boils down to balancing compassion for others with care of self. Sit back and relax. Take yourself out of combative interactions with the reassuring notion that they’re not trying to attack you, they’re just trying to relate to you. And probably they’re doing a bad job; social interactions are hard. Don’t make them harder than they have to be. Follow the excellent advice from James 1:19: “Be swift to hear, slow to speech, slow to wrath.”

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