I've been reading the Stoic philosophers for a couple of years now. One of the most challenging quotes I've found from them comes from Marcus Aurelius- "Choose not to be harmed, and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed, and you haven’t been.”
I understand the sentiment. A friend told me recently, "An offense is given, but being offended is a choice." Still, I think Marcus Aurelius isn't completely right on this one. Suffering and pain are real things in our world. Some events or experiences are too traumatic to ignore.
However, there are many times when we suffer far more than the offense demands. We keep sending in our checks although the cost was paid years ago. Failures and betrayals from the past are costing us opportunities that are right there in front of us today. We blame our destructive actions today on events that happened years ago. How can we stop overpaying? Here are a few ideas.
Be Honest With Yourself. Explore How You Really Feel. (and Why.)
Too often I'm the Black Knight in Monty Python who lost a limb but assures his offender, "It's just a flesh wound!" (I'll use the language of "It's fine.") Choosing not to feel wounded is not helpful if you are actually wounded. Our emotions, like our nerves, provide vital information to let us know when something isn't right. To not pay attention to a wound allows it to fester, infect, and expand. Don't make molehills out of mountains.
Of course, the opposite is true too. We make mountains out of molehills. We take seemingly minor offenses and blow them way out of proportion. In the NBA, this is known as flopping. The opposing player makes a little contact and you fly across the floor. Vlade Divac is the OG Flopper. Don't be like Vlade.
(If you notice that you have a tendency of being like Vlade, it might be that your overreactions to a current offense are because you haven't dealt with the real pain of a past offense.)
Gather More Information. Determine the Actual Cost and Compare It To What You're Paying.
Many times our offenses are based on our perception of an event rather than the reality of it. Rabbi Nilton Bonder writes, "Some injustices can destroy worlds, some ill-perceived injustices can actually multiply the injustices in this world because they are grounded in erroneous assumptions."
My old Android used to voice-to-text my "ok" to "OKAY" (all caps). For some people, that could mean the difference between "cool" and "ENOUGH, I GET IT." They could wrongly assume that I was tired of them bugging me. The truth is that I was too lazy to type two letters.
Oftentimes we completely misread a situation, take offense to it, and then run all of our reactions/thoughts/words through that interpretation. If you're feeling wounded, rather than react on your initial perceptions and assumptions, ask some questions. Seek clarity. At the very worst, you could simply find out that you were correct in feeling wounded.
Don't Multiply the Offense.
One way we multiply the offense is by gossiping. Telling others about how much of a victim we are and how insensitive/mean/terrible the offender is. This does no one any good. It doesn't bring us up to a better place, it only tears down the other person in the eyes of our peers. Jesus tells us that if someone has sinned against us we should first go directly to them. If the person doesn't agree or ask forgiveness, then Jesus says consult a few known acquaintances and make sure you aren't misreading the situation. The goal of this conversation is not to make yourself look or feel better but to pursue healing and reconciliation
Another way we multiply the offense is to seek retribution rather than forgiveness. Perhaps we intentionally wound the original offender. Give them the cold shoulder or give them a taste of their own medicine. Or perhaps even more tragically, we take out our wounds on people that had nothing to do with the original offense at all.
Perhaps your previous boss let you go with some harsh feedback on your way out. You thought things were great and didn’t see it coming. You were devastated. Eventually, you move on to your next job. In order to prevent the same type of painful experience from happening again, you keep your distance. You don't risk. In turn, you don’t get promoted as quickly. You perceive the lack of support or connection with your boss a reinforcement of the idea that bosses can’t be trusted. The cycle of suffering continues. You could have stopped it.
To make it personal, my dad is not responsible for the type of man, husband, or father I am. If I screw up with my wife or kids, I can't blame it on my dad's example. Not to be disrespectful or harsh, but he died five years ago. How can I say he is responsible for what I do today? Don't I have control of my own life? Can't I read? Don't I have access to Google, to a library, to other men who can model and encourage? Whatever disappointments I have with him are in the past. To use them as an excuse to justify my own shortcomings is to pay more than is due. It's multiplying the original offense. I am responsible for myself.
I'm not saying that there aren't situations, conversations, or relationships where pain, frustration, or disappointment happens. What I'm saying is that we are often our own worst enemies. We multiply the pain of the offense by the way we handle it.