I’m the Only Person Who Can Offend Me
I am in control of the meaning I give to the words someone utters, and my emotional response is the consequence of that meaning I choose, not the words themselves.
A few years ago, I was watching my son play at a club soccer game. The parents of the teams were seated on separate halves of the field. Like most games, this division of spectators mostly failed to keep the two groups of grownups from acting like the children they were watching. In this game, the parents of both teams were being particularly loud and divisive. As I did my best to watch the game in silence, a parent from our team turned to me and asked, “How do you stay so calm when the parents of the other team are being so obnoxious?” After confessing that I hadn't always been so restrained and well behaved, I revealed my secret. “Well, I have a trick,” I said. “I just imagine the other side as a group of chimpanzees making animal noises, and I simply refuse to give any of the sounds coming out of their mouths any significance.” The puzzled look on this parent’s face suggested that my answer did more to confuse him than it did to help. Nevertheless, I believe it illustrates a central truth that I try my best to live by –namely, that the only person who can offend me is. . . me. To be clear, that doesn't mean that I simply tolerate someone being offensive. But it does mean that I am in control of the meaning I give to the words someone utters and that my emotional response is the consequence of that meaning I choose, not the words themselves. And if I'm triggered or offended, my first inquiry should be directed to me, not the person uttering the “offensive” words. What part of me is being triggered and why? What work do I need to do so that my reaction occurs with less frequency and intensity? As Epictetus once said, “Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside his reasoned choice.” In an age of trigger warnings and calls for psychological safety, I have found that taking responsibility for my own reactions is far more effective than the anger and frustration that accompanies blaming someone else. Focusing on what is in my control empowers me to shape my experience. And that leaves me with the maturity and moral authority to advocate for the kind of civility I, and I believe most of us, so desperately want. The only thing I give up is the seductive right to blame someone else. For me, I'll take that tradeoff any day. Tuesday Tips
I’m a big fan of LinkedIn. I loved this post, “Why LinkedIn Is the One Good Social Network.”
This Psyche article does a wonderful job of explaining the central premise to Sikhism, the world’s fifth-largest organized religion.
A quote I revisited this week: “If we could read the secret histories of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life stories and suffering enough to distance all hostility.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow