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How to Be Offended

How to Be Offended

How to Be Offended

    I teach things that many find offensive. Whether it’s articles containing racist language in my “Gender, Race, and Class” course or descriptions of oral insemination as part of the Sembia male’s coming-of-age rituals in my anthropology course, I know that some students are going to be offended, sometimes deeply.

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    Over the years, I’ve come to view offense as a particularly useful state of being – but only when the offense one feels is used properly. Most people view being offended as an excuse for shutting down, even going (you guessed it) on the offensive. They refuse to be party to whatever offensive material is being presented to them, whether it’s someone making a sexist joke or a politician’s attack ad.

    Obviously I can’t have students shutting down – or worse, feeling so put upon that they lash out at me or their fellow students. My classroom is, after all, a learning environment. But being offended is one of the key parts of the learning process. It is through taking offense that we discover the limits of our own knowledge, understanding, or compassion, and therefore it is at the point of offense that we have the greatest potential to grow as people.

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    Consider the kinds of situations that make us feel offended. We take offense when:

    • We are confronted with situations radically different from those we’re used to.
    • We experience situations that conflict strongly with our own values.
    • Our belief systems are challenged or dismissed as inadequate.
    • We are labeled or otherwise treated in ways that are inconsistent with our self-image.

    All of these situations can offer us an opportunity to grow as a person, whether by learning about value systems or ways of living that differ from your own (and which sometimes offer a more efficient, more fulfilling, or simply more reasonable way of doing things), or by increasing our understanding of other people (offering the opportunity, perhaps, to resolve conflicts before they become intractable), or simply by exposing the gap between the way others see us and the way we see ourselves (which can be eye-opening indeed).

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    This can only happen, though, when we recognize offense for what it is – our mind’s way of processing unfamiliar experience. We have a whole set of mental standards that our minds are always comparing new experiences against to guide our actions and reactions; when no “entry” exists that we can categorize some situation into, offense kicks in – “this is wrong,” it says.

    At that moment, we can act in ways that prevent growth – attacking someone, condemning them, walking away, or becoming defensive – or we can use that offense as a trigger to kick us into “understanding” mode. Try thinking about these points next time you’re offended:

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    • Offense is not injury. The most important step to keeping a level head in the face of serious offense is to remember that just because something offends you doesn’t mean that it hurts you in any way. Be careful to sort out your immediate, emotional response from the actual practical effect of whatever offensive situation you’re confronting – most of the time, you’ll find your life can go on just fine regardless of this offensive thing.
    • People aren’t stupid. For the most part, people do things for reasons that, at least at the time, seem like good ones. And when they have the weight of tradition behind them, they’re usually right – societies that do things that are actually and truly wrong tend to be extinct. No matter how difficult it is to accept, you have to acknowledge that many practices that seem utterly impractical and stupid have endured for hundreds or even thousands of years without killing, maiming, or traumatizing the people who practice them.
    • There’s more than one way to skin a cat. The way you do things will always seem like the right, best, and only way to do it – but it’s not. Try to recognize the value in the way other people do things – often you’ll find that, as odd and offensive as it might seem at first, it actually manages to accomplish the same ends as your “right” way of doing things.
    • You’re pretty weird yourself. Never forget that to an outsider, everyone seems weird. We are always exactly as foreign to others as they are to us. Try to look at some of your practices from the outside and see just how weird you really are.
    • Clarify, clarify, clarify. Since offense usually arises at the point of misunderstanding between two people, cultures, or social contexts, dampen your moral outrage for a second to ask some questions. Although asking a question or two might seem easy, in my observations it takes a great deal of courage to ask even the simplest questions – we all want to protect our self-identity by refusing to look ignorant, vulnerable, or unprepared. But of course, we often are ignorant, vulnerable, or unprepared – and sometimes all three. Make sure you actually know what’s going on!
    • Those shoes are tight. You know the saying “Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes”? Well, it’s one of those sayings that are actually pretty true. Try to see things from other people’s viewpoints – and often enough, the offense just melts away.

    Of course, there are situations where immediate action is necessary, as for instance when people are being injured. But a lot of us end up with a “think first, justify later” attitude that causes more conflicts than it solves. Welcoming offense as an opportunity rather than a problem is a step towards reducing the conflict around you – by any measure, an entirely non-offensive thing!

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    Last Updated on February 19, 2020

    15 Positive Thinking Books You Need for a Happy Life

    15 Positive Thinking Books You Need for a Happy Life

    Books give us the opportunity to live vicariously through the lives of people with greater wisdom than ourselves. They stimulate our brains and help us not only solve the problems we struggle with, but also motivate and inspire us with new ideas.

    One of the great things about people who think positively and live happy lives is that they love to help others do the same. There are countless positive-thinking books and these 15 are a great way to help you start living a happy life.

    1. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

    mans search for meaning

      This book goes through the horrific struggle of Viktor Frankl who survived holocaust concentration camps. The only thing that kept him going was his idea that everything, even the worst of human suffering, had to have meaning. If you’re struggling through anything in your life, I guarantee the words of Viktor will give you courage to press on and find happiness.

      2. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

      tuesday with morrie

         

        What is life’s greatest lesson? Morrie, a retired professor with a fatal disease, opts to use his predicament to share that message as opposed to just giving up and dying. Following the last few months of Morrie’s life will help you realize what is truly important in life.

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        3. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

        Lecture_Book

          Similar to Tuesdays with Morrie, Randy is a college professor who finds he has a fatal disease with only a few months to live. It is customary for professors at his university (Carnegie Mellon) to give a final lecture with the basis of ‘what wisdom would you impart to a large group of people if it was your last chance?’ Randy stays incredibly positive throughout and even keeps the lecture humorous and entertaining. Amidst it all, his wisdom is a powerful reminder about how to live a happy, full life.

          4. Earning Freedom by Michael Santos

          earning freedom

            Michael Santos was sentenced to 45 years is prison for selling drugs. During his term he fought hard to earn a masters degree and half of a doctorate (halted by the warden) while writing numerous books educating students about the criminal justice system. This book provides a fascinating window into his entire sentence (released in 2012) and how a positive attitude and strong work ethic got him through it. If he found happiness in prison through positive thinking, we can do it anywhere.

            If you don’t have the attention span to finish a long book, the following quick reads are shorter but just as powerful.

            5. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

            little engine that could

              This book has shaped childrens’ minds for years. It illustrates the undeniable fact that when you think positively and believe in yourself, you can accomplish extraordinary things.

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              6. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

              The_Giving_Tree

                Happiness is found in giving. What does it mean to love someone? What would you sacrifice for someone you love? This children’s book teaches a valuable lesson about unconditional love and what it truly means to be happy.

                7. The Dash by Linda Ellis and Mac Anderson

                the dash

                  “When your life is over, everything you did will be represented by a single dash between two dates—what will that dash mean for the people you have known and loved?” (Linda Ellis) We don’t choose a lot of things about our life – parents, birthplace, etc. – but we can choose what that dash between those two dates means. This short book will give you a great perspective on making your life worthwhile.

                  8. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

                  As-a-Man-Thinketh

                    “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state… Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” (James Allen) This book might be short, but it is jam-packed with statements that will make you stop and think. We truly become what we think we are. Negative thoughts affect us more than we know. Positive thinking = happy life.

                    9. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald  Miller

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                    a-million-miles-in-a-thousand-years

                      You are the author of your story. No matter how boring or dull your life has been, you can always turn it around. Donald was in a rut in his life. He had no desire to get out of bed and found himself questioning the meaning of life. Eventually he realized he wasn’t a slave to a pre-written script. He used that mindset to turn around his thoughts, actions, and life. When the closing credits roll on the story of your life, what will people say? Never forget that you have the power to push your limits and live an interesting, happy life.

                      10. The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews

                      travelersgift

                        The Traveler’s Gift is a fictional story about a man who is overwhelmed with life and finds himself thrown into numerous true events from history – including Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He interacts and learns important life lessons from seven different experiences. The book is full of ways to think more positively and find more success in life.

                        11. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

                        david and goliath

                          Malcolm Gladwell motivates you to challenge your preconceptions of underdogs and misfits in this thought-provoking book. When you break down the facts in the story of David and Goliath from the Bible, you find that David really wasn’t an underdog at all – he was the one with the advantage. This book outlines story after story after story of people who were at a disadvantage and learned to find the strength in their weakness.

                          12. How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen

                          how will you measure

                            How would you feel if you got to the end of your life only to realize you had been measuring success wrong? Clayton provides a mass amount of wisdom and advice on how to live a life you won’t regret.

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                            13. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson

                            Dont_Sweat_Small_Stuff

                              The small things we worry about every day may not seem like a big deal, but they wear us down slowly and stop us from living up to our full potential. Learn how to get rid of those worries and negative thoughts and live a happier life.

                              14. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

                              mere christianity

                                C.S. Lewis, who used to be an Atheist, explains how he came to find meaning in life through Christianity. He breaks down all the reasons we doubt and falter in life and how living the principles of Christianity fixes our weaknesses. Lewis is famous for his deep, thought-provoking quotes and this book is no exception.

                                15. Bushido: The Way of the Samurai by Tsunetomo Yamamoto

                                bushido

                                  Bushido is based on the Hagakure, a document that served as the basis for samurai warrior behavior. The document’s purpose was to shape the mind and the spirit of the samurai warrior.

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                                  Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

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