Readers of this blog know I have three sons and three daughters-in-law. I love my daughters-in-law deeply. I believe each of them is a perfect match for my sons.
I do have to wonder sometimes, how my mother-in-law did it. How did she make the mother-in-law relationship, one with so many potential pitfalls, feel so easy and comfortable?
My mother-in-law was a remarkable woman, strong and patient, gentle and kind. I don’t think I expressed my appreciation for her nearly enough while she was alive, but I digress.
I usually text or speak with my youngest daughter-in-law every day, so when a few days went by this week and I didn’t hear from her, I wondered if I had done something to offend her. I thought back over our most recent interactions and couldn’t come up with any likely issues.
Then I got a notification on my phone; it was my daughter-in-law. “Are you mad at me?”
“Of course not,” I answered, “Why do you think I am mad at you?”
“Because I haven’t heard from you in a few days.”
I laughed, explained I was worried about the same thing, we exchanged a bunch of smiley faces and heart emojis, and went on with our conversation.
I treasure our relationship, but it wasn’t always easy. At some points early on there were moments which were…fraught. There were times, I now realize, when I was too easily offended.
The situation made me take stock of my responses to other instances when I was offended by friends, acquaintances, and family members.
If a friend didn’t answer a text or phone call in what I deemed to be a reasonable amount of time, I took offense. If my hubby gently pointed out something I did which bothered him, I was wounded. I was hurt when my sons didn’t sufficiently acknowledge a birthday or Mother’s Day; I was peeved when an acquaintance disagreed with my perfectly reasoned political argument; I was offended when my principal suggested a way to improve my teaching.
Why did I take offense when my superior suggested a way to improve my teaching? In my mind, I was already a good teacher. No, that’s not right. In my mind, I was an excellent teacher. I taught chemistry.
Who was this young whippersnapper, I thought, with merely five years of teaching experience (in biology, no less), to question me? How dare he? Just who did he think he was?
Here is the thing: he was right. Oh, I was right too. I was an excellent teacher (if I do say so myself, and I just did). But his suggestion made sense. When I implemented it, I became a better teacher. By making the suggestion he wasn’t insinuating I wasn’t a good teacher, he was looking at the situation with fresh eyes and saw a strategy for improvement I didn’t see.
I was offended, I believe, because being a good teacher was such a big part of how I viewed myself as a person. If you think of yourself as an effective teacher, you tend to be touchy when someone says your teaching methods need improvement. If you think of yourself as a smart person, you become offended if someone questions your intelligence because being smart is your public face.
I have seen runners on social media become offended when someone suggests that there are requirements you must meet to call yourself a runner; you must be able to achieve a certain speed or run for a minimum distance, for example.
Runners are pretty sensitive about being told they are not actually considered runners by the broader community. Being a runner becomes part of your identity. Your ego is tied up in calling yourself a runner.
We become offended when someone shoots an arrow into integral parts of our persona, something we care deeply about.
How can we become less reactive and defensive in this easily offended culture?
One thing we can do is to remove the spotlight from our “self“. We can cultivate a more humble mindset.
I remember once being upset with a friend of mine who was praising another friend’s running accomplishments. She was going on and on about what an accomplished runner our mutual friend was. “I had times faster than hers,” I thought. “Why doesn’t she say anything about my accomplishments?”
Then I realized I was being silly. And petty. Everyone likes positive feedback and recognition for accomplishments, but I should not feel slighted because someone else is being praised. I needed to get my focus off myself.
Another thing we can do is to rid ourselves of unfair expectations.
I had certain unstated expectations of my sons regarding my birthday. When they didn’t meet those expectations, I was offended, but my expectations were not reasonable and I never let the boys in on what they were. How can they meet expectations they didn’t even know existed? I was setting myself up for disappointment.
Finally, we can assume that others’ intentions are good.
My principal didn’t want to offend me when he suggested a way I could improve my teaching. He praised my teaching ability many times. My relationships with parents and students were good, I had very few discipline problems, and my students learned chemistry.
He saw something I could improve to become an even better teacher, and he was right. He wanted to help. His motives came from a good place. I should have valued his perspective.
It seems as though more and more people are taking offense today than ever before. It’s almost like we enjoy taking offense so we can share our righteous indignation for positive feedback. Lets’ not buy into that mindset.
Let’s choose to not be easily offended. Let’s take the high road from a position of power and grace. The next time you feel tempted to take offense, remember that the only person you have control over is you and that you are enough.
Send those smiley faces and hearts. Allow for differences. Choose love. No offense.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13: 4 -5.
I am linking up with Amy at Live Life Well, Fairytales and Fitness for Friday 5, Embracing the Unexpected for Grace and Truth, Lyli Dunbar for Faith on Fire, Morgan’s Milieu for Post, Comment, Love, Random-osity for The Good, The Random, The Fun, Esme Salon for Senior Salon, Shank You Very Much for Global Blogging, Denyse Whelan Blogs for Life This Week, and Raisie Bay for Word of the Week.