“Ya, Christians believe that the reason there are natural disasters is because God is punishing the United States for legalizing gay marriage.”
The girl sitting several chairs down from me said the words so effortlessly. My stomach turned in knots, anger boiling hot to the surface of my face like a volcano just waiting to explode.
The simple class discussion had started with the Westborough Baptist Church, with funeral protests and heartlessly cruel signs reading “God hates fags”. All twenty-five students and I nodded our heads at the ridiculous nature of the radical group and how it related to the—albeit begrudgingly—importance of free speech. But as we talked around the room for an hour, I realized more and more that my classmates were talking less about the WBC and more about all churches in general.
I sat there sick to my stomach and mortified. How could I get grouped in with these horrible people who spread hate and lies?
Maybe I should have been used to it by then. I have sat in class after class throughout college full of people who I don’t even slightly see eye-to-eye with religiously, politically, or otherwise. If I’m honest, I find myself deeply offended almost every single day by professors, peers, strangers, and so on.
But no matter how I slice it, it is impossible to ignore the sting of being offended. We allow simple words that otherwise might have no power or rapport hit us where it really hurts. And why is that? Because we take the words very, very personally.
The Heart on Your Sleeve
We live in a society of Facebook and Twitter fights, passive-aggressive comments, cyber-warfare, low-blows, twisted campaign ads, and lines. There are lines that separate us into political opinions, religious affiliations, the celebrities we love or hate, the movements we are associated with, or the hashtags we frequent. We are a divided country and a divided world, deeply and complexly.
So it makes sense that most of us run into touchy subjects—offending others or being offended ourselves—often enough in our day-to-day lives.
Sometimes verbal fists are thrown on purpose with specific people in the crosshairs. Other times we find ourselves insulted and the speaker had no idea their words could cut so decisively or painfully.
Sure, a lot of the times I have been personally offended I have been able to shake it off. Someone dislikes the music I listen to, hates on the lifestyle choices I choose to make, or whatever. But what about when someone takes a stab at who you are, what you stand for, your belief system or culture?
What happens when it isn’t just a little disagreement or difference in opinion anymore, but rather a personal attack or a statement of lies?
Because it happens. You show the things that you hold dearly, or in a moment of vulnerability display the difficulties you have endured or the intrinsic pieces of your story. The next moment someone stomps all over you.
The Desire to be Understood
Of all the names I have inadvertently been called and the times people have struck down my belief systems or personal choices as ignorant, stupid, or archaic, there is a common theme to the words that have been said that have hurt me the most.
I desire very strongly to be understood. I also imagine you feel the same way.
That day in class, when my peers started to claim all Christians as fanatical and judgmental a-holes, the reason I was angry was not simply because of the claim, but because I felt completely misrepresented.
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that they were wrong about me—that I try my best not to judge other people or spread hateful messages. My God is nothing like what the WBC claims he is.
But what I came to realize is that their understanding of Christianity came from somewhere. That although I do not believe in a God who “hates fags” or punishes humankind with hurricanes and tsunamis, at one point someone who claimed to be a Christian probably told them that.
Those who offend others usually were first themselves offended.
The world really opens up when we see any insult for what it actually is—a voicing of past pain, a continuation of lies that someone was once made to believe, or a stark reaction to a negative event in someone’s life.[clickToTweet tweet=”Those who offend others usually were first themselves offended.” quote=”Those who offend others usually were first themselves offended.”]
Ending the Cycle of Insult
If I had to pick one thing that I am most thankful for that I have learned the past four years of academia, I would easily say I am glad for figuring out how to be offended. It sounds bizarre. But without coming up against people who seriously disagreed with and hated me, I never would have understood the importance of perspective, context, and common ground.
Being offended has the ability to make me—make all of us—much more understanding people. Only, however, if we let it.
The knee-jerk reaction anytime someone says something that upsets you is to return the favor. Spew poison right back. Hit below the belt. Throw fists. We want more than anything to protect ourselves.
Insults are a cycle. They will go around and around until every party involved is angry, wounded, or destroyed. It spreads from there. And every time we fight fire with fire, we simply prove to the offender how right they were about us.
But what if instead we chose to see through their eyes and change their mind? What if we realized we have more in common than we know?
There are a lot of people in my classes, in my city, in this world, who have been hurt by people claiming religion or legalism a valid reason for judgment, animosity, distaste, or cruelty. There are people hurt by their parents, hurt by the athletes at their school, hurt by people claiming to be good. There is a reason they are saying the things they are saying.
So understand that. If you are insulted, take one big step back and grasp at the pain or bias they are speaking from. Remember we have all been hurt and that though you disagree on some things, there is always common ground to be reached.
And act not to prove them wrong or hurt them more, but instead to show them your perspective and help them understand you back.