The daily news cycle has grown to include a large number of reports of people being offended. These offenses can be big or small, but often they are treated on the level of physical attacks. There are calls for jobs to be terminated over the expression of opinions and the use of “improper” words. This treatment of offenses and beyond-the-pale attacks can be avoided with a focus on self-confidence.
Sticks and Stones
The old schoolyard phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” seems to have been forgotten. However, the point of that phrase is to say that you are more than what others say you are. Words can be clarified, debated, or ignored. The key to avoiding injury from words is to embrace the reality that words only have the power you give them.
For example, if you call me a “poo-poo head” then I can easily laugh it off. Of course, I can also see that as the most horrible thing I have ever been called and dwell on the “obvious” hatred you had when you used that name for me. If you used that name in jest then you have no negative feelings about it, I am the only one with those. In fact, when I decide that the name calling was not mean spirited my negative feelings can evaporate.
Self-Confidence and Baggage
My example is highly simplified. We carry the baggage of our past experiences and that gives weight to words. Just as a trickle of water can eventually create deep chasms, the steady drumbeat of certain words can beat us down. The use of those words can become a trigger for us that brings all that history back to life. Thus, we need to be aware of the sensitivity of others to our words, but that is the limit of what we can do for others. We cannot force them to see that their meanings are not our meanings.
For example, when I was very young I referred to a classmate as a boy. He was six or seven years old and a male so that would be a boy in anyone’s estimation. Unfortunately, he was of African descent and saw “boy” as a major insult. I had no idea that I had done anything other than to describe the situation as it was. He walked away sure that I had negative feelings toward him and had insulted him in an uncalled for manner. I was confused at his reaction but hardly worried about it. In fact, it was months later before I realized how he saw the situation. Even at a young age, he carried the baggage of negative connotations of a general word.
A Lack of Perfection
The key to self-confidence is self-awareness and an understanding that no one is perfect. Once one achieves that state then they are harder to offend. We can see this in our lives when we are in our comfort zone. There are people that we associate with that can almost never offend us. In their company, we have high self-confidence. We trust them and we know where we stand with them. This may be our family, co-workers, friends, or the guys at the local bar (if we are in an episode of “Cheers”).
In these comfortable places, we are not worried about being perfect. Our flaws are accepted and not an issue for concern. The key to self-confidence in our daily life is to expand that inner circle comfort zone to the general population. When we accept that not one of us is perfect then we accept that everyone has flaws. That leads to us being less worried about our flaws. We are a work in progress just like everyone else. That leads to an increase in self-confidence. Self-confidence allows us to ignore insults because “that is their opinion” and suddenly our worries are reduced.
Question Being Offended
When I was young adults would look at situations where someone was offended and ask for clarification. They would say things like “why does that hurt your feelings?” and “did that word leave a bruise?” The point of this was to get us to understand that we gave the word or words power. Being offended was not a big thing and it was something we could easily avoid.
The next time a friend or loved one is being weighed down by some huge offense, ask them to clarify the situation. How is it that the words that were said have such an incredible impact on their life. They may have strong reasons for their suffering, but maybe they are blowing things out of proportion. If we all push back on this trend of being offended and help build self-confidence then maybe we will need less “safe areas” in schools and on college campuses.