Getting beyond being personally offended

Because we need you — all of us — in the arena, not sitting this out

No doubt about it, it’s been a highly-activated, emotionally-hot, and nervous-system up week for any human who’s been paying attention, yes? It’s okay to admit that, in fact, it’s important to admit it.

Today I want to say something about anti-racism, anti-violence, and anti-oppression that I hope provides some different food for thought

I’m specifically addressing you if you’re a non-Black or Brown human (non-Black/Brown person – NBP) who is, with a brave and willing heart, learning to take a stand, and engaging more in being anti-racist. I’m writing from my perspective as a Taiwanese person-of-colour (POC) who is on the road with you.

This is about being offended

Over the last couple of weeks, I think it’s safe to say there’s been an uptick in online conversations where people have gotten offended. Offended by being called racist, ignorant, unaware, or… something along those lines.

Given the context of the societal injustices we’re witnessing in the news, I’d like to suggest we look at the distinction between…

(1) Being morally offended on a human level, and
(2) Getting past being personally offended.

What do I mean by this? Let me break it down like so:

Yes to being morally offended

So…of course we’re morally offended on a human level by oppression, unless you have a serious lack of empathy! If you’re a caring person, injustice opens something up in you. You want to do what you can to be responsible, and undo any part you play in upholding racism, violence and greed in our culture. These are BIG, human level problems. If we’re not offended that our world has come to this, we’re likely numb (for good reason) tired and taking a break (also for decent reasons) or we’ve given up on humanity entirely.

Otherwise, I don’t know anyone who *wouldn’t* be disgusted and offended by the human cruelty on display.

Yes to being personally offended, and then, we need to get over it

In contrast, there is being personally offended. Did you make a mistake and do something that was harmful to a Black or Brown person? Were you called out as lacking in skilful facilitation of a group or conversation? Maybe you have a friend who tried to tell you about a blind spot you have. Or, you called yourself out, realising for the first time that you’re part of the problem.

Here’s the thing:

In cases like this, it’s totally natural to react, freak out, have a melt down, and be personally offended. If we’re truly morally offended (what I described above), when we make a mistake in this area, we’re very likely to have a deeply sorrowful, horrified and edging-on-crisis response. Particularly when we’re just getting going in our anti-racism work.

This may sound weird, but it’s important to be personally offended in a considerate way

When you have your personally offended reaction, let it happen in your own space, or with other people on a similar part of the anti-racism journey. Don’t feel these offended feelings however, in Black or Brown spaces, where it’s really not appropriate, unfair, and unkind to do so.

That would be like (1) being a bully to someone, and then (2) freaking out about how horrible you feel bullying that person to the person you bullied and (3) making the bullied person take care of you. Not a good way to go about this!
Instead, find somewhere else to be remorseful (probably with other recovering bullies) and once you’re on your way to sorted out, you can go back to find the person you bullied, and work to make amends.
That’s being offended in a considerate way.

From a coaching standpoint the key is the difference between being morally and personally offended

Don’t get being morally offended (or morally outraged) confused with being personally offended.

These emotions are vibrationally similar – moral offendedness and personal offendedness – so they’re easy to mix up. They’re connected but they aren’t the same.

Mixing them up leads to messes, big messes, that have to do with you making it about you when it’s not the right place to make it about you. It IS about you, but it’s about you changing, and picking how to do that, where to do that, and when to do that, with wisdom and consideration for others.

This is work, for sure. And as someone who’s done a lot of learning about this distinction, particularly in domestic violence spaces, I’m with you.

Try to catch yourself in the experience of being personally offended

Remember that reacting poorly to being accused of something is usually a reflexive, knee-jerk response. The opportunity is to choose how you behave from there. It’s okay to react and be personally offended and then correct yourself, saying something along the lines of

“Whoops, I made that about me, and while I *am* upset at what I’m accused of, let me pause, go back, put my offendedness aside and accept that I can do better.”

Because guess what, we can all do better. Admitting we can do better is, the last time I checked, an honourable thing.

Also: About being offended and calling out other people’s behaviour

A quick word to non-Black or Brown people who are learning how to be anti-racist and noticing other people messing up. As you get educated, it will be tempting to excitedly call out others for their mistakes.

There is a request I have of you. Noticing racism when it happens is a good thing indeed. However…please try to call people out in a way that allows them a way back. Don’t call them out in such a way that adds to the difficulty the person will have in making amends. There are no extra “brownie points” for being harsh and the path is already long enough.

Plus, one day it will be your turn (or my turn) to make a mistake: to believe otherwise is naive. Be a kind ally. This too, is anti-racist.

A final word…

Thanks for considering my coaching-based, systems-thinking, root-cause take on this.

Above all, my prayer is for the long game, since the issues of racism and violence are not special occasion issues. I pray that we be purposeful with our energy and commit to active anti-racism being part of the rest of our lives.

And although it’s a messed-up statement to make, I’m grateful for all the ugliness making itself visible right now, because unless we’re clear about where we ARE with the state of things, we aren’t going to be able to GET anywhere new.

Today, I hope you’ll join me in staying with the truth. Seeing the ugliness. Being offended, staying morally offended, and getting over being personally offended.

One instance at a time, over and over again, may this be our process. If we can do this, and can help others, including our clients, to get/do this, I know we’ll be doing something real, and increasing our capacity for continued action. This is how you stay in the arena, do one thing at a time, and eventually together we accomplish the impossible.

My mantra for these times: be very offended, then get over it.

I hope that this has been useful.

Got thoughts on this? Please comment below or share with someone you love for discussion. I welcome your thoughts.


Photo credit top to bottom: Andre Hunter on Unsplash; Hayley Catherine on Unsplash