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How to be Unoffendable
A word or two about boundaries and wasted energy
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a breach of a law or rule; an illegal act.
"neither offense violates any federal law"
the action of attacking someone or something.
"reductions in strategic offense arsenals"
We’re talking about definition #2. Specifically in regard to insult or disregard.
There are things I find “offensive” but I am personally unoffendable.
When I say, I find things offensive, I’m speaking more of traits or behaviors in the metaphorical context of a horrible odor. It isn’t personal… or shouldn’t be.
Taking offense or being offended requires that I personalize, internalize, and place undue importance on, a given statement or action by an individual.
People say and do thoughtless things. That’s part of the human condition. I’ve done it, you’ve done it. Hopefully, we are aware enough to, at some point, apologize about those times.
But routinely thoughtless people, and being subject to them - their words, their actions, is more an issue of your boundaries or the lack thereof. We’ll get to boundaries later.
…if it is NOT my dog, I’m NOT responsible for it.
I don’t find a dog’s diarrhea to be a personal affront but it is offensive. In the same way, there is conduct - a way of being - that I have no interest in subjecting myself to. It has an odor to it but I don’t take it as an insult against me.
The dog is being a dog. The dog was sick.
And there are people who have a way of being that is, similarly, sick. Thoughtless or unaware would be the prevalent trait.
If it’s my dog, I suppose I have to deal with the offensive mess the dog made. But, and this is important, if it is NOT my dog, I’m NOT responsible for it.
The idea of saying, “You’ve offended me!” is curious. It does not seem to make a lot of sense. Even the idea of thinking - “that person offended me” - is odd to me. Certainly carrying anger - anger about the mess a sick dog has made, is unhelpful.
If the dog is chronically sick, is not your dog, and you continue to subject yourself to their mess, self-reflection is needed. Being offended is not the issue. The dog is not the issue. The question is, again, one of boundaries.
What if someone says something mean, insulting, and/or thoughtless about you?
This is where people get offended a lot. A perceived or real insult or assessment of their being.
When faced with an accusation or assessment of my humanness or failing/lack, if I believe the assessment to be incorrect, I will often ask the other individual if they have any interest in me responding to the charge or assessment?
Asking this is important. If they are not interested in your response - there is no discussion to be had. Responding with anger and the predictable, intractable, back and forth, is wasted energy.
If they say, “yes,” I will endeavor to give a sincere but brief, explanation of my perspective. I try to accurately self-assess when doing so. I believe harsh self-assessment is important in these situations.
If my response is sincere but is not acceptable to them, and movement in this area seems unlikely, I feel no need to make a second attempt at clarifying my perspective or understanding.
There is little reason to be angry in such instances. Certainly expressing anger is futile. While I may experience frustration, that frustration is mine.
I am content to allow an individual to hold whatever opinion of me they wish to. Accurate or inaccurate, gracious or ungracious - toiling to remedy that perspective is a drain of energy and time. Their opinion and perspective is theirs. I will not attempt to claim ownership of that.
Let me lay it out in a conflict resolution tree that was given to me many years ago.
If someone says something about you - regardless of tone or how it is expressed - even if they are aggressive and mean-spirited, start by removing the offensive language (and tone).
“You are such a fucking asshole. You don’t care about ___________!!! Screw you!!!
Should be translated to:
“You don’t care about ___________!”
or, more accurately:
“I feel as though you don’t care about ________.”
They are expressing their feelings, even if poorly. The extra words are unhelpful to both parties. Removing them provides some clarity.
The Offense and Conflict Resolution Tree!
Is what they’ve stated true?
No knee-jerk reactions here. This is where you need to have harsh self-assessment.
Disregard and move forward.
If yes, go to item #2:
Is this something that you feel you need to change?
Using the above example, it might be that I don’t care about _______. But, more importantly, I may not feel any obligation to care about _______.
Disregard and move forward.
If yes, go to item #3
Set a plan in place and change it.
Depending upon circumstance, a sincere apology may be necessary here as well.
In all cases, there are really only two actions. Disregard and move forward or Set a plan in place and change your behavior/actions.
Note: The action that is not included is getting angry or resentful.
My grandfather, on my father’s side, was an alcoholic and a gambler. I don’t recall much about him. I think I remember his funeral. Maybe I was three or four years old.
But he was often unpleasant - particularly when drinking.
We went to grandma’s house for dinner a couple times a month.
The following was conveyed to me by my brother.
My father, who was a teetotaler for my entire life, would call his mother (Grandma Moran) and ask if dad had been drinking. If she said, “no,” we piled into our Country Squire station wagon - with the faux wood trim - and headed over the hill from Canoga Park to Santa Monica.
The picture above has NOTHING to do with this article except that it was the first photo I could find with one of our many station wagons. I assume we are in Yosemite, or Yellowstone, or Montana, or … somewhere, USA.
When we arrived at Grandma’s, we would all remain in the car. My father would go into the house, smell his father’s breath and look for any signs of drinking.
If he found such signs, he would turn around, get into the car, and we would drive back into the valley and have dinner at a Mexican Restaurant. I believe it was called Rusty’s.
My father would not yell, or express anger. He simply removed his family from the situation.
That’s pretty good. I wish I’d been better at this as a father and a human-being.
After my second divorce I thought about boundaries and how being unambiguous about what you will and won’t tolerate in life is a super power. It removes reactionary moments. You can act with a calm assuredness that you are maintaining boundaries that should be consistent.
And so, I am typically, very direct about everything. Per the above conversation about being unoffendable. Being unoffendable is ultimately driven by boundaries. An understanding of what I have control over and, more importantly, an established set of guidelines about what I will allow in my life.
Boundaries are not an, “I won’t allow YOU to do X.” - it isn’t about the other. It is only about, “I maintain a life where X or Y behavior, by myself or others, is not allowed.”
It isn’t personal to anyone except for you.
It also requires an understanding that you have very little control over the behaviorally odoriferous. I do have control over my own odoriferous behavior and that is where I need to focus.
Our boundaries can only be established in connection with our homes and personal relationships. My father knew he had little to no control over what his father did in his (his father’s) own home. Therefore, when conditions were problematic, he spent no time or energy trying to alter that situation.
It was not reactionary. There was no, “I’ll show him. He can’t do this to me.”
His boundaries required that he extricate himself and his family from that situation or any similar situation, with any person… or any sick dog.
Deb has told me that positioning toxic people as sick dogs is dismissive.
Perhaps… But I’m not telling them they are sick dogs. it is a word picture to help me, and you, understand what our reaction to odiferous people and situations can be.
Rather than take offense at what I cannot control, I prefer to establish and maintain my boundaries - something I can control.
Thanks for reading.
August 17, 2023
About my writing schedule
Mondays: Music, Creative Ideas, and/or Tech
Thursday: Humanity (sincere or absurd)