Bill Esteb's "Excuse me. May I offend you?"

This week we have a great article from Bill Esteb that is all about how easily offended we have become.  He discusses the most common sources for offense and how we can overcome them.

Excuse me. May I offend you?

I’ve noticed an interesting shift in my seminar audiences when, during my initial introduction I review the five ways they can become offended by what I’m going to speak about. I’ll share these five ways in a bit. But why all the thin skins these days? Why does it seem so easy to offend others? Why have so many become so brittle?

I’m guessing that the political correctness that permeates our society is part of it. But being offended is a lot like claiming that guns kill people. Or that germs cause disease. (Neglecting the trigger pulling and depressed immune system requirement.) This is a refuge for the least discerning who find it expedient to make broad generalizations and then become uncomfortable or indignant when others find lapses in their crudely created and simplistic worldview.

No. Being offended is an inside job, like recovering one’s health or losing weight. If you get offended by what follows (or you already are), you did it to yourself. Congratulations!

I believe it was Eleanor Roosevelt who observed, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And isn’t this how voodoo works? Or hypnotism? You have to be a willing accomplice. I think that’s what’s at work here.

If you feel slighted because someone didn’t address you as doctor, calling you by your first name instead. Or maybe someone cut you off in traffic. Or littered your parking lot. Or used coarse language. If you have a heightened fight or flight reality, if you’re not careful, you can allow yourself to be hijacked by your limbic system by attaching an inappropriate meaning to what happened.

Here are the five ways to become offended at a seminar (mine or someone else’s). Or reading a blog post (this one or the next). Or interacting with others of the human species:

Have a high level of intolerance. It’s amusing how the supposedly most enlightened, self-righteous among us are the ones who are often the ones who exhibit the least amount of tolerance. This is an example of an Intellectual Subluxation. Being fixated, dogmatic and unyielding to the perceptions and beliefs held by others suggests an unhealthy hypersensitivity. (An idea allergy.)

Be easily threatened by anything new or different. In other words, be threatened by the tender shoots of progress. Back in first half of the 19th century, it was German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who observed, “Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.” Good thing D.D. Palmer wasn’t afraid of something new!

Suffer from a fragile sense of self-worth. True, if your self-esteem could use a bit of sprucing up, being confronted by someone (and their ideas) who appears certain when you’re not, has clarity when you don’t and has the courage of his convictions that you lack, it could be an unpleasant reminder—the perfect trigger for feelings of anger and envy.

See a different point of view as a personal attack. Many people have this notion that the goal of any group, profession or country is to have consensus. How boring. Sure, you can choose to make it personal, but that’s a choice. In the same way you can love the person but hate their behavior, you may want to separate the person from their ideas. Voila! Their ideas are no long an attack.

Have an exaggerated need to be "right." This little disorder produces wars, feuds, divorces and immeasurable suffering. Does this all go back to grade school and the belief that whoever has the most right answers on their quiz is better or superior? Do you find yourself feeling isolated, misunderstood and unappreciated, having a tendency to impose a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude? You might have an exaggerated need to right while claiming to be diminished by an opposing point of view.

Anyway, since reviewing these five points at the beginning of my speaking gigs, it seems that audiences enjoy themselves more and there are fewer crossed arms. “After all,” I remind audiences, “if you and I agree on everything, then one of us is unnecessary. Me. So for my own job security I hope you don’t agree with everything about to share with you.”