No Right to Not Be Offended

I have a pretty strict no-provoking policy among the kids.

For many years this has been enshrined in my mom-phrase, “Don’t. cause. problems.”

The idea is that many people (and children most-blatantly) find their ability to affect the emotional (or physical) state of other people to be quite entertaining.

It’s closely related to the delight of the small child who realizes s/he can knock over a tower of blocks.  After the initial shock, interminable repetition becomes hilarious and a delight: I, aware of my finiteness in this vast world I do not understand, nevertheless have the power to effect change!

Or something equally giggle-inducing.

So, desiring a maintenance-pattern that requires the least amount possible of my direct intervention, I taught my children from a very young age that this form of entertainment was a barely a degree more acceptable than swinging the cat by his tail.

The resulting problem is one I can see in our society as well:

When people become used to living in a neutral environment, where conflict is not blatant, anyone who makes life harder seems bad.

I am agitated, therefore they are provoking.

 ~ ~ ~

Earlier this week, while I was out in the barn, there was a small earthquake in the house. Natasha, in a blanket-sleeper and boots, staggered (having just awakened) out to tell me that Melody wouldn’t stop screaming.

Apparently Elisha (on his bed) began making a noise that Melody (on her bed) found “annoying” and he would not stop come pleas or high decibels.

In negotiating the situation, I asked if he had been following her around with the noise, and found out, no, they had just (both) gone back to their room after breakfast.

~ ~ ~

Because Elisha was the one causing Melody’s discomfort, she assumed he was the one that needed to change. But they were both in places they were allowed to be, doing nothing intrinsically bad.

In fact, both children frequently enjoy making random noises together, kicking the air and creating competing rhythms.

~ ~ ~

Once you’re beyond the tower-tumbling stage most things get more complicated, including relationships.  There are things people can do to make your life harder– steal your parking space, buy the last movie ticket to the showing everyone wanted to attend– but either of these could have nothing to do with you.

I think we can agree that most people being inconvenient are merely selfish, not provoking. Because when we inconvenience others it’s generally because we’re not thinking of them at all. Or we’re thinking of ourselves more.

We can take the reminder for what it is (out of many possibilities we can be reminded that mankind still has not evolved to a higher plane. *sigh* Get with the program people.), and give both them and ourselves grace for our continued imperfection.

Basically, in general, I’m saying get-over-it-and-be-the-grown-up.

There are many times when overlooking the rude behavior of someone just makes everybody’s life smoother (the barista will probably serve the man who cut in line, because it’s the fastest way to get to the rest of the customers).

But there are exceptions, too.

I categorize these in terms of safety, and cost.

Someone driving recklessly in a school zone isn’t just “inconveniencing” the mothers who are there to pick up their kids; reckless drivers are also putting other people at risk.

On the other hand it may be perfectly safe (or it may not) to have separate schools for people of different ancestry, but the cost to their humanity, dignity and even quality of life proves enormous.

This is where I believe the government has every right and responsibility to step in. This is the government’s job: to protect its people, from one another if necessary.

This authority, rightly applied, makes it more possible for ordinary citizens to overlook the average rudeness they encounter. If there is a pattern in place, assuring citizens that grievous issues will not be ignored, it creates a setting in which to make distinctions. Some issues are small, either suffered or dealt with alone, other issues could require the intervention of a higher authority.

~ ~ ~

Sometimes a bit of rest or maturity is all we need to take an offense in stride. But in Melody’s case both were lacking.  The existence of irritation was enough to make it personal.  So we talked about strategies.

How do we deal with an offense from a person we can’t (ethically) control?

Here’s the 3-step strategy that was impressed on me around the age of six (it may or may not have had something to do with a playground incident…):

  1. Ask the person to stop. (If s/he won’t go to Step 2.)
  2. Move to a physically different space (yes, this may seem like surrender– letting the other person “win”– but weigh it by what is most important to you. Melody, if you really want quiet, not just to be in control, it’s worth the effort). If the offender follows or otherwise makes it plain that you are now the focus of his/her unwelcome attention, this is what authority-figures are for.  This is the time it’s a good idea to
  3. Come get Mom.

This is the order to work in. You don’t start with #3. That’s whining, and it wastes Mom’s time. If #1 works, you don’t have to move on to step #2, etc.

And, maybe most important of all when working with kids, they get to practice problem-solving and negotiating skills on their own.

In all of this, I assured Melody that she did not have to change her feelings, but that it wasn’t her job (and she did not have the authority) to change Elisha, either.

I ruled for Elisha.

He got to keep dip-dip-dipping.

4 thoughts on “No Right to Not Be Offended

  1. Becky says:

    Good strategy. I need to teach this to Katherine and Joshua.

  2. Amy Jane says:

    Aaand in a dramatic (poignant?) shift, we just had and *incident* where the roles were reversed and I had to review 1-2-3 with Elisha’s response to Melody.

    And it was good to have N listening in, because her answer to #1 and #2 (“What do we do first?”) was “Get mom!”

    Totally in-character. Completely what I’m trying to retrain.

  3. Brooke says:

    Very interesting. I think I always skipped straight to three when I was young.

    • Amy Jane says:

      Right! Me too, Brooke.

      As a kid, when my mom reminded me of this formula, I always felt like she was just trying to get rid of me. That she didn’t care about my problems.

      But now as the mom I can see the frustration of having always to be the referee, simply because the children haven’t learned the basic, Christian sibling-skills of love, grace, and mutual submission.

      (That’s basically what’s going on in negotiation).

      As Christians we’re called to use these skills in Christian community. I’m beginning to think it’s my mom-duty to help them figure this out *now* because conflict is never. going. away.

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