A few years ago I heard a lecture on Refusing to be Offended (click to listen) which completely changed my mind about something very important. First, I learned that I don’t have to be offended, whether someone is trying to offend me or not. I can simply choose to not take offence. That’s good news to people like me who don’t like feeling offended. Second, I learned that it’s not disagreement that divides people, but offence.
I’m from the south and here it’s not polite to talk about politics or religion (although the former is being brought up more and more) because we’re told that these are contentious issues. I won’t deny that they are contentious issues, but I refuse to believe in the myth that people can’t learn to disagree well. I have very close friends that are on opposite ends of the political spectrum (from hardcore right-wing conservatives to flaming liberals) and we enjoy discussing these things together. The reason is because none of us insist that everyone agree with our opinion. Why should I take offense when someone thinks I’m wrong? It takes a frail ego indeed to insist that everyone agree with them all the time. My friends and I can vigorously debate opposing viewpoints without getting angry or hostile simply because we refuse to take offence with one another. In other words, we’ve learned to disagree well and more and more I’m convinced that this is a trait that should be expected of anyone who considers themselves a mature adult. If we can’t consider possibly being wrong on a given subject, then we have decided that our ego is more precious than truth.
I’m a Christian who has had very pleasant conversations with Muslims and Atheists because we chose not to be offended by the discussion. Yet, I once had a “Christian” brother threaten to physically assault me because I held a different doctrinal opinion than him regarding a very non-essential side issue. I offered to sit down with this brother and explain, in detail, how I’d arrived at my view, but he was unwilling. That was someone who was intent on being offended, no matter what. Instead of considering the fact that he might be wrong about something, he choose to disengage in our relationship. If this individual was firm in his opinion, he could have simply sat down with me and shown me my error. But the ego is a dangerous slave master.
The irony, I’ve found, is that southerners, the ones who insist on being polite, are some of the worst offenders when it comes to unfruitful, hate-filled disagreement. I listen to a lot of talk radio and where I live it’s all conservative. I wonder then, if people who only listen to these shows, are coming away with the inability to actually reason through an issue. Like it says in Proverbs 18:17 --
The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.
Now this by no means tells us that the first (or only) idea we hear is necessarily incorrect -- only that it should receive a healthy cross-examination. After being tried, maybe the original case is still the strongest. Sometimes, however, it will fail to stand up under cross-examination and we might actually be forced to change our opinion about something. God forbid that ever happen! Seriously though, I hope that we can all learn to vigorously debate important issues without taking offence and learn to disagree well. And speaking of bitter disagreements, I just finished a book titled Son of Hamas about the son of a terrorist who became an Israeli spy before moving away from Islam and into the arms of Christ. I hope to give a review of this important book soon.
Thanks for reading.