I’ve worked with “at risk” youth for most of my adult life and have lived with or near the same population of youth for my entire life. In that time, some things have stayed the same while other things have changed in startling ways. Most of the kids that I have worked with have wanted to be valued, accepted, appreciated, validated and given a path toward their future that takes into account their individual values, beliefs, strengths and challenges. That has stayed extremely consistent. What has changed is the tendency to be offended. Whether learned or copied, being offended has become a overly relied upon strategy for dealing with challenges from others. In many ways, being offended feels good. It takes disagreement and forces a victim-perpetrator dynamic upon differences of opinion. Disagreement takes work and a willingness to regulate one’s emotional responses so as to find resolution. Being offended allows for an abrupt end to disagreement by prioritizing the victim and vilifying the perceived perpetrator. Kids are paying attention to adults and are learning to silence those who disagree or offer constructive criticism by mandating that the offended is cleansed of responsibility and the offender is mean, uncaring and a perpetrator of hatefulness. Many kids have chosen to become activists against authority or conformity or those offering help by branding those with differing views as hateful or old fashioned or uncaring. For me, being offended serves little to no purpose unless it is in response to personal and unfair attacks. I most often choose not to lazily or arrogantly fall into being offended simply because it serves to silence healthy communication and disagreement. Healthy relationships allow for disagreement, but more importantly, disagreement with a prioritization on maintaining important relationships allows for growth and an expansion of thought. In the end, a diversity of thought is important while being offended usually serves to damage or destroy relationships. I have often been accused of staying engaged long past the point where others walk away offended. Maybe we’d all be a little better off if we stopped relying upon being offended and started considering where others are coming from while choosing to carefully and thoughtfully considering our own views on things. If my only argument against a view that I don’t hold or a position that I haven’t considered is to be offended, am I not simply closed minded and intolerant of others?
Many of the kids and adults that I’ve worked with have some unhealthy and self destructive tendencies and beliefs. It is hard to challenge those tendencies and beliefs in search of brighter tomorrows when kids and adults choose being offended as their desired strategy to stay the same and to shun growth. As the adult, I choose to set an example of working through differences, listening, challenging, explaining my strongly held views and trying to understand where others are coming from. I can’t think of a single time where being offended has served to help someone see things differently and grow. I don’t always get it right, and I have room to grow. I tend to try to always seek first to understand and then to be understood. Unfortunately, many that I’ve worked with want to be understood before gracing others with a desire to understand. As a result, I work to choose not to be the victim of others and I choose not to be offended in most cases. Disagreement is healthy and anger can be dealt with. Being offended, in most cases, simply serves to keep my mind closed and limit my relationships with people who see the world differently. I too want to be valued, accepted, appreciated, validated and given a path toward my future that takes into account my individual values, beliefs, strengths and challenges. If I’ve offended you, I am sorry and I hope you know that the relationship is what I value as long as the relationship can support disagreement…without settling for being offended.
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