It’s happened again. Someone said something that was well intentioned, but came out all wrong. The delivery was rude and crass. It was unkind and so the result was predictable. The message was lost in the midst of the offense it caused. That’s unfortunate. It was something that people need to hear. It mattered. But despite that reality, the bigger, more significant reality is that when something is spoken in an offensive manner, it doesn’t matter what’s said. The offence is always greater than the words.
That’s bad enough. It’s bad enough that a good message ended up offending people, but what’s worse is that people have taken umbrage to their offence. Yes, people are offended that people are offended. And so, they mock them. They belittle the word “offence” as if it’s meaningless. They call the people who have been offended snowflakes or other unhelpful things. So, now there are two offences. The original, less than helpful sentiment, and the belittling of those offended.
Let’s rethink that word, “offended”. Would it be better to say Shamed? Demeaned? Insulted? Assaulted? Abused? Wounded? Or how about plain old hurt? You might not like those words. You might think they’re too strong. You might think they’re not appropriate or that they don’t apply, but the truth is, they are all equally good substitutes for the word “offended” and whatever word you would prefer to use rather than the offensive offended, people were hurt by a well-intentioned but poorly spoken message.
People have been hurt this way before. They are being hurt right now. They will continue to be hurt. They will continue to be offended, shamed, demeaned, insulted, assaulted, abused, wounded, or hurt by poorly spoken words.
Words have incredible power. We can say things that shape the lives of others in both helpful and hurtful ways. Sometimes what is intended to be helpful comes out the wrong way and it ends up offending the very person we want to help. And at that point we have to consider the pain of the offence and, more importantly, we have to own up to that truth to find a way to make things right rather than belittling the person for being too sensitive.
As people of faith we are called to love others and, by implication, not to hurt anyone. We also have a wonderful message to offer. How we deliver that message matters. Some people might not like what we have to; that’s their choice. But, if we share God’s Good News is in ways that shame, demean, insult, assault, abuse, wound or hurt we are offensive to both them and to God.
After all, Jesus tells us that whatever we do to a fellow child of God, we do to Him. So, if we offend a friend, we offend Jesus. On the other hand, if we treat a friend kindly and make a positive difference in their lives, then that’s what we offer to Jesus. Which would you rather do?