This is what happened: I was at a wedding. I was minding my own business when a guest came up to me and said, “I can’t believe it. The bride didn’t include her father in the ceremony. We drove all this way and she didn’t include her own father in the ceremony.”
I didn’t say anything. I think the thought bubble over my head read: “Not my monkey. Not my circus.” Later, though, I thought about the bride, her father, this guest and their relationship. (I have known all of them for a long time.) I thought about how this guest could have had a myriad of responses to the bride’s choice. The one they chose was to be offended. I’m sure the guest didn’t see it that way. Their role was the protector of the wounded party. They were the thoughtful caring one and the bride was the thoughtless, uncaring one. They had a right to be offended. Right?
Actually, no. Not right.
To be sure, there have been some splinter deep wounds among this threesome for a while and they have let them fester. It was one of those situations in which a conversation with sentences like “When you did X, it made me feel Y” would have been labyrinth of dead ends and wrong turns. I’m sure you know those conversations. Probably been in a few of them.
But here was a wedding. The beginning of a new chapter. The bride made choices about who and what would make her feel special. It was her day. She could have included certain people in the ceremony to make them feel better but she didn’t. Her choice, however shortsighted, gives us choices: Do we raise a glass and wish them the best? Do we look at our behavior and try to understand how we participated in the bride’s decision? Do we find a time to talk and apologize for any hurt we may have caused so that we can salvage the relationship? Do we raise a glass, wish them well and accept the limitations of this now changed relationship? Or do we search to be offended?
So often, we reach for the offended outrage.
And doesn’t it feel fantastic? When we’re offended, we don’t have to look at our behavior. We don’t have to acknowledge that every relationship is a system and our choices corrupt the system as much as the other person’s choices. When we are offended and outraged, we feel right. And isn’t that what we’re going for: to be right?
Actually, no. Not at all.
When people search to be offended, they’re slathering resentment and righteousness on top of their anger. It makes an apology practically impossible. It makes finding common ground insurmountable. Some days, like today, I wonder if humanity is destined for righteous turf wars. Other days, maybe tomorrow, I am amazed by our human ability to listen, understand and turn anger into action. I don’t want a world sanitized of anger. Not at all. Anger can spark so much good trouble. But searching to be offended is wasted time.