Not so long ago, a friend of mine started a wonderful company that invites strangers around a dinner table, complete with incredible food and inspiring conversation. Early on, I helped as a guest hostess and carefully selected questions to ask the guests that ranged from light to deep, funny to thoughtful. I still have a couple favorites, but near the top of my list is this one: If you had the authority to enact a law that everyone would have to abide by for one day, what law would you choose?
My response was always the same: For one day, no one can be offended. That's it. No matter what happens on the road, at home, in the office, and perhaps more pointedly these days, no matter what someone posts on social media, you cannot be offended by any person, any words a person utters, or by any circumstance—nothing. Imagine it for a minute. Not a single living person chooses offense for one whole day. What would it be like?
See, another friend and leader I admire taught me something about living free from offense over the past few years. It's a pilgrimage I've begun and honestly, it's still rocky terrain. Each day I interact with people and encounter circumstances that create environments that foster offense. Some days, knowingly or unknowingly, I'm the initiator of offense for others. And, sometimes I take the bait from others. An actual slight or an imagined one, I pick it up and dwell on it, pay it forward, you name it.
But what if I walked in so much personal transformation that I could look at the thing coming toward me and allow it to remain outside? What if I had different lenses in the moment the bait was dangled? What would life be like then?
If I picture an offense like a small ball flying through the air at me, I have a few choices: I can let it hit me, I can catch it. or I can adjust my posture and let it fly past. For many years, I've chosen one of the two initial options. I found it hard to let the offense fly by because it was actually drawn to something inside of me. Perhaps it had to do with justice, a wrong being set right. Often, I noticed that my personal values were in direct opposition to what was coming toward me. Sometimes the words or the circumstances just plain hurt and I wasn't sure why. Regardless, I had to heal from the impact. Other times, I was able to catch the offense without much damage, but holding it meant something to me, so I refused to drop it. And, in less lovely moments I threw it right back at the other person.
The more I live from a whole place, in understanding what is being triggered inside of ME from words or actions I experience from others, the greater my ability to let potential offenses fly past. At times, I've been able to look at the person in front of me and verbalize, "Hey, that doesn't sound like you... What is it that you're feeling or experiencing right now?" Other times, I've seen how I could have picked something up when there was no ill-motive or intent being exercised by the person in my path. My own story contributed to the way I viewed a word or action, but the person I was interacting with genuinely meant nothing by it.
Walking free from offense is a process. I'm learning to ask questions, mostly of myself. What's going on? What has happened today or this week that could be stirring up this feeling? What's the thought connected to that feeling?
A bit of self-diagnosis can go a long way when it comes to living more freely. It can even create space to move into a meaningful moment with another human. A world filled with people who also steer clear from being offended sounds pretty well worth the effort required to live this way. And no offense, but it starts with you and me making the choice to refrain from choosing to be offended each and every day...