This is the final installment of an Anatomy of Offense. For most of us, we respond positively when a person is justified in their offense. If we are sensitive to the Spirit we want reconciliation, express a repented heart, and seek forgiveness. However, there are times (and they seem to be the majority of the time) when people "feel" offense when no offense was intended or expressed. Feelings of offense are often triggered by a word or deed that leads to an emotional response. If I walk down the hall and say, “ hi”, and you don't respond, it triggers an emotional response of offense. "I was offended because you didn't acknowledge me." Was the offense justified? Was the person who 'ignored' you truly slighting you, or was there something else going on?
Asking questions of clarification can clear up most feelings of offense. "I said hi to you in the hall way. I was wondering if you didn't see me or were preoccupied?" This is a question that owns your feeling and allows the person to clarify the situation. Emails are notorious for miscommunication and feelings of offense. I am a great proponent of emails. I think the quick distribution and lines of communications facilitate workflow. However, anything written can lead to misunderstanding. When conversation isn't localized and face-to-face, nuance is missing and people can respond to emotional triggers that lead to feelings of offense.
There are two negative responses that can occur when a feeling of offense takes place. One is to do nothing, let the feeling fester, and/or gossip about the insensitivity of the person who triggered the feeling. This response is destructive and leads to sin. The second response happens when the offended genuinely wants to reconcile the situation, and approaches the person who has triggered their feelings. Generally they make a statement like, "Can I talk to you a moment. I just want you to know that when you _________, I was offended,” or "You offended me when you __________." There is a problem with these statements.
In this situation the offended person isn't seeking clarification. They place an expectation on the supposed offender to acknowledge the offense and seek forgiveness. The problem is that there may not have been anything offensive that has occurred. The person may have only triggered an emotional feeling. If the "offender" doesn't apologize the "offended" will walk away, still feeling hurt and disenfranchised. On the other hand if the "offender" apologizes they have perpetuated a victim mentality that leads people who have triggered emotions to expect contrition by others.
This is a difficult position. If the "offender" says, "Oh, I am sorry that you feel offended, I didn't mean to hurt you,” the "offended" might feel better but no repentance has taken place. The "offender" has only apologized for the "offended's" feelings, not any action done on his/her part. The only thing that happens is that the "offender" becomes paranoid when ever he/she is around the "offended"
So, how should the "offended" respond, and how should the "offender" respond?
When feelings of offense arise the first step is to identify the feeling. Why has the action or statement offended me? Was the action or statement meant to be offensive? Has the person done or said something that truly degrades or harms me in any way? If the action or statement triggers an emotion, but wasn't truly offensive or unintentional then the "offense" is an emotionally triggered event and not a justified offense. The second step is to take it to the Lord and lay the feeling before the throne of God's grace and chose not to hold it against the person who has triggered the emotion. Chose to love them in the way that Christ has loved you. But, what if the feeling doesn't go away?
The third step is to own your feeling, go to the person, and ask clarifying questions. "You said ______, and it made me feel _______, and I was wondering if that is what you meant." "You did ______, and it made me feel __________, and I was wondering if the that was your intention.” Clarifying questions, like the ones above, acknowledge the feeling as yours and allows the person to give more information that could shed light and ease your feelings. What if there is not intent of offense but the answer doesn't alleviate your feelings?
If no sin has taken place, and the confronted person feels no need to apologize, then we follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). I think it is unreasonable and presumptuous to expect an apology when a sin hasn’t occurred. The accused “offender” should be gracious, clarifying when necessary, apologize where appropriate, but not every “feeling of offense” should be coddled.
We live in a culture that has perpetuated a victim mentality, where ‘victims’ are always right, and truth is subject to feelings.
Whether I have offended or felt offended the overriding principle is love. I’m just saying….