I’M OFFENDED: The Moral Obligation to Yield to Emotional Outrage

Unless you live under a rock, we have all felt the manipulative power of people who claim to be insulted, displeased, injured, antagonized or “sinned” against. How is it that we can be so easily affected by the claims of injury by another person? What is it that, in this social climate, now triggers such an intense and total obligatory response in us? I believe it comes from previously learned personal training from our upbringing. Yet, in an age when power and effectiveness are so strived for, revered and admired, how can this be? Do we really feel obligated and culpable to the condition of others or is there something else? I believe that there is something else. Something that lives deep within us. Something which has been imprinted on our psyches from childhood that has taught us how to respond to the world from an almost subliminal place. Something which doesn’t run our games, desires and goals but acts as an undermining censor, an interferer and an inhibitor for what benefits us and our family over the rest of the world. It’s something that has very fully but tacitly and slowly convinced us that our fate and well-being are in the hands of others. Let’s take a look at the dynamics underpinning this process.  

We humans will react to each other out of one of two motivations. Either we react out of entitlement or out of something lacking in us or in our lives. The alternative to these two is not to react which does not encompass most of us. Almost all of us have an ulterior motive for everything we say or do to each other all the way through to the most trivial of issues. We may want to simply have some attention, prove a point, or to do for or give someone something (which almost always has some desired or expected response  regardless of whether we’re conscious of it or not). Even making conversation is geared toward alleviating an uncomfortable silence or just to quell an uncomfortable feeling of being alone. The point is that we humans never do anything without some objective at the root of what we do no matter how simple or unconscious we may be about it. If we’re conscious of it, rationalization becomes a tremendously beneficial mental tool used by our ego and geared toward ensuring the validation of our choices and preferences.  Our mind is an extremely resourceful tool and clever in its attempts to protect itself while often fooling ourselves or others about the “rightness” of or innocence in our choices.     

Entitlement and lack are almost always the perspectives we act from. Both these perspectives come from a perspective, conscious or not, that the world somehow controls what we need or want. In psychology this perspective is called having an external Locus of Control (LOC). This perspective is learned and originates from the first moment we realize that we are separate and distinct from the rest of the world. As a child, this is learning that there is a self and a not self. Internal LOC, the perspective that we control our own circumstances, originates from our own simple actions and expressions with no external stimulus or encouragement from the “outside” or “not self” world and is our original disposition and is essentially innate.

Just after our birth, and during the time which we were, as yet, unaware of any separation between us and the “outside” world, only the internal LOC is in play. We feel, move, breathe and exist in our own space. We slowly begin to learn what our actions will bring. We cry, we get attention…or not. We cry, we get fed…or not. We cry, we get changed…or not. All we “know” is from the perspective of an internal LOC. However, as our mind develops, we begin to realize that it isn’t so much that our actions bring us what we want but that it comes from something or someone independent of our actions. This is the birth of awareness of not self or external LOC. Since then, we’ve learned that our parents control a lot more of what we want or need. We’ve grown into looking toward our parents for everything including permission to be, do or have. We’ve learned the difference between self and not self and what we had to do, say or be in order to get what we want or need. This has programmed us for how much control we have or not over our own lives. As recently as fifty years ago, most people eventually grew into holding perspectives that resonated relatively equally between both internal and external LOC. We then came to believe that the world held sway over some of our circumstances but that we generally had at least a say, if not an influence, over what we had to contend with coming from the world.

But over the years our perspective has slowly shifted. Since then our parents have taught us to become more and more responsive to the outer world’s demands and requirements and to acknowledge less and less what our own feelings and common sense have been telling us to be, do or say. Encouragement for being ourselves has slowly evaporated and has been replaced with, “Listen to your parents. Listen to your pastor. Do what the doctor says. Do what the policeman says. Do what your boss says.” No longer do we hear, “You can do it or we’re proud of you or I trust your judgment.” The little inner voice acknowledging what we should be, want or feel has been crushed under the world’s incessant onslaught of what we should think, want or be. Pursuing our own personal path seems to be growing into an implied social taboo in the face of answering the demands of the outer world. We have morphed into feeling and believing that answering the needs of others must be accomplished first before we may be permitted to pursue our own needs and preferences. Thinking and doing for ourselves has sunk to the bottom of our list of priorities. This was the first nail in the coffin of our individuality and creativity.

In the last twenty years or so this depersonalization has been accelerating. How did we allow ourselves to lose so much power and influence over how we handle our lives? Sadly, it appears to have developed through our greatest accomplishments in technology. Technology itself is not to blame but what we have become as a result of its benefits. The most dominant and influential part of our technology is the media and what it has subtly seduced us into becoming.

The media has lulled us into becoming passive. We have become so externally focused that we don’t do sports anymore. We watch “the game” on the television. We don’t live our lives anymore. We watch sitcoms trying to imitate the “proper” way to live. We don’t go to college to get educated. We pay for credits so the world will “owe” us a better job. We don’t travel the world anymore experiencing different cultures. We watch them on television judging their lifestyle based on our way of living. We don’t have conversations about what is right or wrong anymore. We watch the news and are told by the experts, panels and pundits how we are to live, what we should believe and why. The media and its “benefits” have allowed and encouraged us to become lazy and passive. Through this increasing passivity, we have been coerced into not only not thinking for ourselves but giving up being in control of our own lives. We’ve become passive humans. Is there any question as to why we have become so angry and depressed as a culture and don’t understand why?

To add insult to injury, we’ve transferred our parental authority to the media which has become our surrogate parent. It tells us what is right and wrong and what we’re permitted to be and do. Following it serves our self-image of being “good.” Underlying this is our ego’s safety in the absolution of any responsibility for our actions because we are doing what we are told by the authority we have given our power to.

With our personal authority having been given away coupled with the feeling that everyone else’s needs must come before our own we have arrived at a perspective where we feel that it is inappropriate or even taboo to ask for what we want. This saps our energy and trashes any confidence we might have in our own ability and potential, or even deservedness, for getting what we want. In this light we have only one option to get what we want; to shame or guilt someone into believing that what we want is owed to us by them. This brings the “I’m offended” ploy into action.

In accusing someone of offense, we don’t risk being exposed as being inadequate or selfish while feeling entitled to what we are blaming them for depriving us of. Blame and responsibility for our welfare and status is squarely placed on the person being accused. From their perspective, we should feel selfish and insensitive while allowing them to capitalize on the belief that we should have known better about our social obligations and responsibilities to them. This is essentially a very convoluted passive-aggressive tactic on the accuser’s part with overtones of the “tyranny of the weak” ploy where someone feigns helplessness to receive benefit from others. The only difference between them is that one perpetrator will truly feel entitled from a narcissistic perspective and the other will feel abused and undeserving and are too afraid to ask for what they want.

Being “up front” in our culture requires courage and a strong sense of personal dignity (not to be confused with inflated pride). Since our fading culture and persistent media has driven us far into a helpless, undeserving and inadequate perception of our own worth, such a person who has become steeped and heavily invested in an externally vested LOC will find it much harder to resist or repel these types of “conscience aimed” attacks from the “me too” and politically correct crowd. The only “cure” for minimizing our vulnerability to these types of tactics is to bolster our perception of our own personally perceived value. This is easier said than done and requires a long recovery period that must essentially untangle the mixed messages our culture has subliminally implanted into our unconscious belief system. It requires absolute self-honesty and a willingness to forego the seeking of acceptance and approval of our current socially sanctioned groups whose rules qualify our belonging to them through the  sacrifice of our personal benefit and preferences in exchange for the safety and security that the group offers. The irony in this perspective is understandable through the sardonic humor offered by Woody Allen when he said, “I wouldn’t want to be part of any group that would have me as a member.” While in recovery and regaining our confidence and personal dignity, our response to an “I’m offended” accusation should be, “It is unfortunate that you feel that way.” This provides a social disconnect which lets the accuser know that we will not take responsibility for their unfortunate welfare or status. We may feel some guilt or shame related to what they’re going through but we must realize that we are not responsible for the choices of others. Chalk it up as a distasteful residue of the type of training we are jettisoning and should not have received in the first place. What should be going through our mind is “Charity begins at home” and “Doctor, heal thyself!”

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