No Offense, but You’re Offensive

December 14th, 2007

“No offense” and “none taken” are a common exchange in the US.  People say things all the time that might be taken the wrong way, and usually are able to sense their mistake pretty quickly and say “no offense”.  And more often than not, the response is “none taken.”  And the whole thing ends there.

            This is certainly not the case in India.  In my experience here, people fall into three categories.

1.      The Offender: this is the guy who has no self-awareness and offends everyone constantly with no remorse. The Offender is a difficult personality type to recognize in oneself, but almost everybody knows an offender.    

2.      The Offended:  This is the person who is always, constantly and unendingly offended.  Over what?  Anything and everything.  It takes very little to send this personality type into a fit. 

3.      The Afraid-of-Offending: This is the person who is perpetually afraid that they will say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and get caught up in a whirlwind of drama. 

Given the right context I think it is possible to portray all of these behaviors at different times.  Surely all of us have been in each of these positions.  But I also believe that most people fall into one category most of the time and default to this dominant style in new or unfamiliar situations.  For example, suppose you are predisposed to take offense.  If you are invited to someone’s house for the first time you are likely to feel offended by something.  Maybe the host is not dressed well enough to receive you, or the food is not up to your standard, or you were not greeted with enough respect.  If you are looking to be offended, surely you can find something to set you off.

Where does this come from?  One idea is that is comes from the externalization of personal value.  If we expect our sense of self, dignity and personal satisfaction to come from another person, there will be many instances where we are left unfulfilled, and hence the predisposition towards taking offense.  On the flip side, if we understand that people around us need to pampered and made to feel special and important based on our efforts, we will naturally work hard to please and worry that we will be unable to do so- because it is next to impossible to fulfill someone who doesn’t feel whole intrinsically.  And what about the offender?  This is the guy whose sense of self-importance comes from superficial positions or possessions, and so can choose to ignore the feelings of others.  In fact, by flaunting his/her ability to be callous towards others they are able to further strengthen their sense of personal worth.    

Jiddu Krishnamurti the renowned philosopher said “What is important is … to observe what is actually taking place in our daily life, inwardly and outwardly”. To move from the common externalized sense of self to an inner understanding is quite difficult, but results in a much more stable personality – confident and inwardly peaceful.  If we look outwardly for personal recognition we lose all control of our own happiness, and surrender to someone else the ability to make us angry, sad or happy.  Anger directed toward the faults of others, is truly a waste of time, yet it is an easy way to avoid our own.  It doesn’t hurt for each of us to regularly take a hard look at our own actions and think about what makes us truly happy.  Where do we get our sense of personal value?  Wayne Dyer, the self-help guru and best-selling author advises us to live independently of the good will of others.  If no one were around to comment on where you go, what you wear or what you do, will you feel fulfilled?  Would you know what you liked without the approval of others or looking at the price tag?


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    This Blog is a collection of my thoughts about culture - my background and culture, growing up between multiple worlds, organizational culture - how we can shift the "feel" of organizations by the choices we make, and cultural competency- understanding eachother better to make better decisions and form meaningful community.

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