Go Ahead...Be Offensive

“Learn to laugh at yourself!”  

I was young when my father uttered these words to me. I can’t remember what I was specifically upset about, but I know it was something for which I was feeling embarrassed. I’d probably tripped on something or said something silly, and rather than embrace the humor of the moment, I chose to get upset at being laughed at.

Few things can trigger greater reactions from insecure people than feeling mocked or laughed at.  And when my father chose to console me not by scolding those laughing (my siblings), but instead encouraging me to join in, finding the humor of a situation coming at my expense, I didn’t immediately realize the path to liberation he was sharing.  After all, it felt bad enough to have other people laugh at me....but for me to laugh at me???  That seemed like the highest level of self betrayal. But I was wrong.

Lately in our society, strong messages have been sent on the importance of not being offensive to others.  And we are seeing the results of that in a society that seems to be becoming more and more fragmented and disgruntled.  The natural result of not being offensive is that it sends an secondary message that it's ok TO BE offended.  This is a dangerous position for anyone. It creates a dynamic where our happiness rests firmly in the hands of the people who are offending us.  If they change their behavior and stop being offensive....I can be happy. If they don’t.....I’ll remain in my caustic misery of being offended.  Ultimately, they are in control, they decide my happiness.  

When I demand others stop with “offensive rhetoric” or whatever we wish to call it, I am essentially demanding the whole world behave in a manner that doesn’t upset me.  And for every individual who might have the capacity and compassion to change their behavior to be less offensive, there will be another standing in line to take their place and keep me entrapped in my prison of offense.  

But what if instead we were to make a social push not about being less offensive.....but to being offended less?  After all, being offended is a choice I must make.  In fact, it's even worded that way.   People must “take offense” to things.  We “take” it. 

Imagine if someone were to place a goblet of what I knew to be poison before me and I were to drink it and get sick, then scold the person for placing the goblet there?  And what if they decided to keep placing more goblets and I kept drinking and scolding....only to stop when they decided to stop placing the goblets?  That would be crazy as anyone in their right mind would say, “Just stop drinking from the cups!!”  

But that’s not what we do with offensive material.  For unknown reasons we take information that will upset us and drink deeply from its bitter waters.  Then, as quickly as we can, we share it with others, willingly placing the chains of misery on our own shoulders to bear the darkness of angst spouted by others.  

When my dad told me to learn to laugh at myself, I didn’t immediately recognize that it's harder for others to laugh “at” me if I join them in finding the humor.  And by learning to not take myself so seriously, I found a greater liberation in my life with the understanding that I don’t have to let others dictate how I feel about myself.  Especially when those “others” want me to feel miserable.......so why let them?  Seems silly doesn’t it?  

Yet at times I still struggle with it to be honest. I still have to hearken back to those words spoken from a father to a little boy....the wisdom still had to be applied.  

For instance, as an author, why is it that I have to work harder at not being affected by the handful of negative comments from strangers about my work than the many positive ones from people I know and love?   My initial reaction is still to reach for the goblet.  And while I’ve gotten a lot better at not sipping its content, I still battle the temptation at times to reach before withdrawing my hand.  

It’s human to be defensive when we hear others bash our religious, political, social, and personal perspectives on things.  It’s even more so when they do it to us personally.  But in both cases, the key to our liberation isn’t them......it's us. It's our ability to recognize the poison flowing from their lips is a testament to what is within them......not us. Unless, of course, we decide to partake as well.  

So go ahead. Laugh at me. I’ll join you and we will both have a good laugh together.


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