There's an old saying which goes: 'Offense can only ever be taken, not given'. The truth behind this maxim may not be immediately apparent but embedded within this simple phrase is the key to a potentially happier and more rewarding life. I'll get back to that in a little bit.
'Being offended' seems to be a trending social behaviour and has become a powerful mechanism with which to bring attention to oneself and one's own particular narrative. Taking offense works marvelously in the workplace in all sorts of situations - from getting an annoying colleague out of your work life to demanding that pay rise or promotion. Taking offense can get you off the hook with the school principle, government departments and even the police. It can be used to manipulate interpersonal relationships. Pretty handy, huh?
Getting together with others to take offense collectively has become very popular and can be extremely empowering to the 'in' group. Even more empowering and vastly more popular is the puzzling phenomenon of taking offense on somebody Else's behalf (often in their absence and without their knowledge or even their concern). To gain additional traction it can be worthwhile to link the potential offendee's perceived unjust experience to a minority group (real or imagined) or an historical injustice (real or imagined) where a large group can be perceived to be unjustly affected. This is a useful way to guilt people into conformity and can facilitate cranking up the volume to eleven on the rage machine.
"you can take offense very effectively with the use of a few simple tools"
Typically, you can take offense very effectively with the use of a few simple tools. Virtue-signalling is a popular one and will help your ends justify your means, (perceptually, at least). Don't discount the magic of crafting and applying social labels, especially if you can apply labels with a negative connotation to an entire group, and then imply that the individual to whom you are taking offense is a part of that group. From there on you can just make sweeping statements about the group, which is much less of a moral burden than dealing with any individual's actual issues and well-being. Don't worry if such a group exists or not - you can just make all of that up, spout it as truth, and it will still be an effective measure.
An alarming number of people these days will react immediately to your having taken offense, even if they don't understand the context or details of your drama. Taking offense is a way of signalling to others that you are not insignificant after all, and it propagates a feeling of strength and virtue, a brand of courage which demonstrates to those around you that you are firmly engaged in life's more important struggles. Go you!
Be aware, however, that taking offense will not work one hundred percent of the time. Your taking of offense will have no affect at all on certain people, and you are likely to find those same people are immune to the kind of triggering which personally causes you to take offense. Nothing seems to offend these people. They don't seem to snap to attention when you take offense no matter how offended you try to be! Bastards! You can say what you want to them and they won't jack up and engage in a witless battle of finger pointing and virtue signalling. If you aren't careful you can actually get your point across to these people without taking offense. Don't say you weren't warned.
Take a minute to think about what is actually taking place when you 'get offended'. What's going on at the event horizon of your mind at the moment when that surge of righteous energy wells up inside you and you prepare to put the 'offender' in their rightful place or silently delegate their ideas and opinions to your mental waste basket? What happens immediately after the trigger? What is the character of your words, actions, your mood? What is your current mode of thought? What is the nature of your intent?
"when we take offense we are having an emotional reaction to our own thoughts"
When we take offense our behaviour is actually no big surprise. Behaviour is triggered by thought, as are emotional reactions. When we take offense we are having an emotional reaction to our own thoughts. But wait! Doesn't it always seem like we are really reacting to the thoughts/words of the person who 'caused' us to take offense? Isn't that what offense is; when somebody (either intentionally or otherwise) makes you 'feel' personally offended?
When we hear or see something which cuts right across our grain, an idea which clashes with our own paradigm in such a way as to impel us to place ourselves in immediate and urgent opposition - that's offense, right? I mean, we almost can't help it (especially when our beliefs and and social norms are being harshly challenged or criticized), can we?
I would argue that we can help it. In fact the only person who can prevent you from 'being offended' is you. Taking offense is a voluntary action which you are in control of. Ouch. Taking offense is not an unconscious event, yet it may feel instinctive and indeed, inevitable.
When you take offense you have allowed the situation to overwhelm you. You have focused on the triggers and amplified them via the internal dialogue in your head. We have all experienced this at some point. When an apparent injustice occurs, the cogs and wheels of your mind begin grinding away and a thought is born. The thought percolates to the top of a broth of other assorted thoughts and ideas, shoulders its way to the fore, and reinforces the feeling of injustice.
Righteousness (the natural counter to injustice) validates our position and we have now built a solid platform from which to project our indignation. This is a conscious realization and a pivotal point at which you can prevent the taking of offense. At this point you (and only you) can prevent the runaway train which is about to whisk you off the platform and send you careening into the stormy night. Without your luggage.
It may not seem so, but the decision to not take offense is simply that - a decision. Sure, you can still be angry or frustrated or perplexed about the initial trigger, you can remain discontent with the discourse or apparent outcomes, but you need not take offense. You don't need to act offended. Not ever. If somebody were to launch directly at you a personal tirade which is designed to deliberately push all of your buttons and make you feel bad or inferior, this event is clearly beyond your control. But what you can control is your reaction to that event. Taking it personally (or not), is your call to make. It's a call only you can make, in fact.
"the spectrum of 'offensive content' is as vast as it is deep"
Taking offense puts you in a negative emotional state, wastes time and energy, and clouds your judgement. Taking offense pleases your tormentor (if the intent to torment is present in the first place) and can sap your credibility and integrity if no intent to inflame exists, or when your perception of context is inaccurate. The spectrum of 'offensive content' is as vast as it is deep. For example; some people are virtually impossible to trigger, while others foam at the mouth and throw tantrums over the most insignificant little things. People sometimes even take offense on your behalf over issues which don't even offend you. People can label your words, actions and even your character as 'offensive' without you ever having to engage with them in the first place. Taking offense is a waste of perfectly good oxygen.
Choose not to take offense. Choose not to take things personally. Pull yourself up short when you feel the righteous indignation bubbling up inside you and don't allow your initial internal dialogue to dictate proceedings going forward from this moment. Question your motives: are you really uncontrollably triggered or are you just consciously employing behavioural strategies which are effective for self-justification or to shut down a conversation about an uncomfortable topic? Is this person truly inflicting psychological harm or are they just an asshat troll who you wouldn't piss on even if they were on fire?
Do you even value the opinion of the person you are taking offense at, or on behalf-of? If not, why allow yourself to become emotive or make an intellectual deposit into such a low interest account? Alternatively - if their opinions and ideas do have value to you - wouldn't it be best to engage with them in a non-emotive and reasonable manner so that you can resolve or perhaps at least understand some of your differences? And finally; wouldn't you rather anchor your discourse in the calm harbour of reason when somebody else is taking offense at your own words and actions? The power that others have over your emotional reactions is a power which is yours to dispel.
Offense can only ever be taken, not given. Make a conscious effort to put this nonsense behind you. You, alone, are in charge of your emotional reactions. Don't be cowed or bullied by others who try to recruit you into their hysterical ranks. When others take offense, don't give them the special treatment and attention they are seeking, but do try to understand how they have arrived at such a state, accept that it is so, and let it go. Don't take their offense personally! We don't need to control the thoughts and actions of others, we need to be in control of our own thoughts and actions. I can't offend you, and you can't offend me. Asshole.