Why Be Offended?

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What is the incentive to be offended? That is, what does a person gain from it? I ask this question because we are all offended by something other people say and do from time to time, but it isn’t a happy emotion, so why do some people embrace it while others brush it off?

A few months ago Thought Catalog ran an article written by a body builder bro satirizing white 20-something feminists, Asian Women Need To Stop Dating White Men. The article went viral, earning more than a million pageviews. Three-quarters of those pageviews came from Facebook, despite the fact that Thought Catalog never shared the article on Facebook. The majority of people sharing the article weren’t agreeing with the message, the readership was a massive number of people posting, sharing, and clicking on an article they expected to be offended by. They sought out that experience.

I think the motivation behind sharing an article like this would be something along the lines of, “look, racism exists in the world” in order to make people more socially aware. The benefit of embracing the unhappy emotion of being offended would then be that drawing attention to the problem will decrease the occurrences of the problem overall because (still guessing at the motivation here) tons of angry people will flood to the article and post comments about how the author is wrong, thus changing the author’s mind. It’s a bit of sacrificing your own happiness in order to make someone else a better person. It’s choosing to spend your happiness on others, for the digital age.

As a woman, I know there are sexist people out there and I read articles about how women should be judged by how appealing they are to men, or that they’re sluts, or whatever. It offends me, sure, but it’s a passing emotion and something that is going to happen when you live on a planet with billions of other people who all have their own lived experiences and opinions. I don’t choose to stay offended by focusing prolonged attention on the things sexists say. To me, that would be like focusing a lot of time and energy on people who say the sun isn’t going to set today, why spend my time, energy, and happiness convincing someone of something that, to me, is completely obvious?

I’ve found a lot of success at keeping myself happy and not-anxious by developing a locus of control that’s on the extreme end of internal (versus external). That is, I assume that I am in control of my life and when I want something it is within my power to get it and when something goes wrong it is within my power to fix it. Put another way,“When receiving test results, people with an internal locus of control would tend to praise or blame themselves and their abilities, whereas people with an external locus of control would tend to praise or blame an external factor such as the teacher or the test.” In practice, if I was unhappy I would say my life doesn’t suck because I’m a woman and therefore a constant victim of The Patriarchy™ — it only sucks if I allow it to suck.

And that’s where being offended doesn’t make sense to me. I do not want to give other people the power to make me unhappy. That power belongs to me, only. They can say something that is, in passing, offensive, but I’m in control of whether I let it affect me. Here’s an illustration I have always found very helpful in that regard:

Once it happened that with closed eyes I was in my boat meditating on a beautiful night. One boat came floating downstream and struck my boat. My eyes were closed, so I thought, ‘Someone is here with his boat, and he has struck my boat.’ Anger arose. I opened my eyes and I was just going to say something to that man in anger; then I realized that the boat was empty. To whom could I express the anger? The boat was empty. It was just floating downstream, and it had come and struck my boat. So there was nothing to do. There was no possibility to project the anger on an empty boat… And now if someone comes and insults me, I laugh and I say, ‘This boat is also empty.’ I close my eyes and I go within.

The internal locus of control tells me to say “so what?” if a boat hits me. I don’t control everything in the world but I control how much time, energy, and happiness I want to give away to that boat. Do I want to spend time telling people how awful the boat is, or do I want to spend it doing something that benefits me? Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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