Being offended

Last Updated on 2022-07-08 by Joop Beris

There is an old story about the Buddha and an angry old man which goes something like this.

Each day the Buddha would go to the market and each day, an angry old man would come up to him and start hurling insults and abuse at him. Each day, the Buddha continues smiling and minding his own business.
After a week, the old man is so curious about why the Buddha doesn’t react, he has to ask him why he continues to smile despite all the abuse. The Buddha replies:

Buddha, with the same smile still on his face looks at the old man and asks “If I were to bring you a gift tomorrow morning all wrapped up in a beautiful box would you accept it?” to which the old man replies “Absolutely not, I would take nothing from the likes of you!”.

“Ah ha” the Buddha replies “Well if I were to offer you this gift and you were to refuse then who would this gift belong to?”.

“It would still belong to you of course” answers the old man.

“And so the same goes with your anger, when I choose not to accept your gift of anger , does it not then remain your own?” Buddha replies.

You can’t be offended

At this point, you may be wondering why I am dragging Buddha into this article and what, if anything, this story has to do with being offended. You may think it is not related at all but you would be wrong.
I don’t know if the events in this story are true or not but for what I want to say about being offended, it doesn’t matter. The attitude the Buddha shows in this story, is precisely the attitude that people seem to have forgotten. People are offended by the silliest things these days. For instance, the recent outburst of people offended by the Starbucks cup. Or how about being people being offended by certain Halloween costumes? If you have time to concern yourself with these things, you have entirely too much free time on your hands.

It's now very common to hear...
It’s now very common to hear…

The point I’m trying to make is this: it’s impossible to be offended. No one can offend you without your cooperation.  Just like the Buddha in the story above refuses to accept the old man’s anger, you don’t have to be offended. It is however very possible to take offence. Taking offence is a choice you make. This is why the being offended argument can not be used in any kind of rational debate. If you choose to take offence at something, why should that compel someone else to make a change on your behalf?

Blasphemy laws

The pinnacle of this “being offended” foolishness is certain people taking offence on behalf of someone else, someone who doesn’t even exist for all intents and purposes: a deity. Blasphemy is a completely ridiculous concept. The idea that an all powerful, all knowing (and loving) deity could be offended by what an insignificant human being thinks or says about him/her/it is already absurd but people rushing to this beings’ aid is simply preposterous. What do they think? That their god is impotent to defend itself? That there are developed nations where the concept of blasphemy still exists in the legal system is ridiculous. As if an all-powerful deity couldn’t take care of an offence by itself and needs humans to stand up for it and punish the culprit on its behalf. Blasphemy laws only exist to protect a belief that can not stand up to reason and logic, that has no evidence to support itself but was once powerful enough to forbid criticism of its archaic notions by law. They belong in our past and it is time we got rid of them for good.

I don’t believe there is such a thing…
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[…] Perhaps the most important piece of advice for life that I can offer, is the advice not to take things personally. Not everything in life is about you personally. People who said something offensive or negative about you, may not be aware that they’ve done so. They may not know better. Perhaps they are ignorant or simply angry, bitter or resentful people. While it is easy to take offense, remember that nobody can offend you without your cooperation. […]

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