One late evening of the American Civil War, President Lincoln visited the home of General McClellan, head of the Army of the Potomac, to discuss vital strategy. The General was out, so he waited for his return. After an hour McClellan arrived and was told that his important guest was waiting. Without a word, he snubbed his commander-in-chief and headed to his room. After another half-hour, Lincoln was told of McClellan’s retirement to bed. Lincoln’s secretary John Hay bristled that the president should have been greatly offended, but Lincoln offered that it was “better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.”
When offenses arise, do I not make the personal choice to be offended? Or to ignore, overlook or move on?
I may be disrespected or insulted, but those are the acts of the perpetrator. Taking offense is an act reserved only for me.
And so is my choice for an opposite reaction: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Not taking offense does not change or excuse the wrong directed toward me, others, or a group I identify with; but that decision does elevate me as an overcomer. I, therefore, profit despite the offense.
I recently attended a meeting in which the attendees’ discussion was declared to be a “safe space.” We were assured that everyone had come with their own background and perspectives, and it was okay to have different opinions. Yet the longer we discussed issues, the more people expressed personal offenses against what others had to say.
In order for tolerance to work, must it not flow both ways?
However, tolerance cannot be tolerated in all things. Some things, like genocide, human trafficking, murder and rape, are universally wrong and must be combatted.
Yet if truth is not relative, as these examples clearly demonstrate, how and why does it bend in our morality?
In lesser offenses, where do the lines separate between what is expected, acceptable, tolerable and intolerable?
Surely we could tolerate others’ opinions, I thought.
But what if “the science is settled?” Apparently there are science-deniers (think climate forecasts), history-deniers (think Holocaust) and Christ-deniers (think world-views), among others. There are people dwelling on both sides of such debates who are both fully convinced and fully inconvincible.
So how are we to treat all with equity and magnanimity?
It seems to me is that, as individuals, we want things both ways, and we bend our rules of behavior and acceptability to suit us.
Because: is it not true that my selfishness leads to an elevated opinion of my self-importance? And in my heightened arrogance, I then choose to be offended when my prideful sensibilities are mistreated?
Clearly, I have more questions than answers in this discussion. But here are a few thoughts I’ve collected for my own offense against offenses:
1. I choose NOT to take or accept intentional or unintentional offenses against me.
2. “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere for a fresh start and a new beginning.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
3. Without rancor or retribution, I will contribute to work that:
• educates ignorance
• corrects misinformation
• arrests evil and harmful deeds
• tolerates differences of opinion, belief, and technique
• respects individuals and people groups
4. I have pre-determined that I will be open and teachable, willing to grow and learn.
5. Truth, if it is all that, can withstand any attack, slander or challenge. What is not truth cannot. If I possess it, what can I truly fear? And if I don’t, what can I learn?
What are your thoughts?
MasterPoint: The best strategy against offenses is an intentional and personal counteroffensive.