Thursday, July 16, 2015

Focusing on the Positive in a World of Conflicting Opinions

Are We Too Easily Offended?

I hear this complaint all the time (and I'm sure you do too): Everyone's offended by everything and no one can say what they think anymore.  Is that true?  Have we as a society become so obsessed with political correctness that we've killed freedom of speech?  Or are we just learning to be more considerate of others?

As with all things in life, I think the answer to these questions really comes down to balance.  We don't want to do or say things that are blatantly offensive to others, but we also don't want to be so afraid of offending that we never speak our minds.  We want to know that our opinions are respected, even when people disagree with them.

A Little Illustration

Let's listen to a story, shall we?  Let's say that there are two mothers who live next to each other on the same street.  We'll call them Jessica and Laura.  Jessica is a health nut.  She only eats organic food, she limits her sugar intake, she jogs an hour a day, and her kids never watch television.  Jessica's children are not allowed to go over to Laura's house because Laura bakes cookies, with real butter, every Saturday and let's her kids pack snack cakes in their school lunches.  It seems that almost everything about Laura's lifestyle is offensive to Jessica.

Laura, on the other hand, often feels guilty about the fact that she doesn't exercise or eat a healthy diet.  When she sees Jessica out for a run, pushing the baby in her trendy jogging stroller, and munching on apples and low fat Greek yogurt, she feels nothing but anger.  She sees Jessica and feels judged for her own choices, just because they are different from the choices her neighbor has made.

Seeing the Good in Both

Is Jessica a better person than Laura?  Or is Laura a better person?  Or do they both have good qualities and bad qualities, just like every other human being on the planet?  Can't Jessica be proud of her healthy lifestyle without hating Laura's chocolate chip cookies?  And can't Laura enjoy fixing delicious treats for her kids without being angry at Jessica for not eating them?

Maybe Jessica could acknowledge that Laura is a great mom who spends lots of quality time with her kids.  Maybe she could see that Laura's family is happy, her kids are smart and well-adjusted, and Laura is an amazing cook.

Maybe Laura could applaud Jessica's efforts to stay healthy and to ensure that her kids grow up healthy too.  Even though Laura sees nothing wrong with a little television now and then, maybe she could understand why Jessica doesn't want it in her home.

Learning from Each Other

I can't speak for the rest of the world, but I know that when I find myself having a particularly strong emotional reaction to someone else's choices, it's often because I'm feeling self-conscious about my own.  I worry that other people are going to judge me, so I try to beat them to the punch.  I try to judge them so they're the ones who look bad, not me.  But of course that judgment itself is the thing that ends up making me look bad.

If you're feeling inclined to judge someone else, examine yourself first.  Are you judging just because you think the other person might judge you?  If so, it might be time to make a change in your own life.  Or it might be time to be proud enough of who you are that you don't have to worry about everyone else quite so much. 

This doesn't mean we have to accept every choice that everyone else makes.  It's a great big world with lots of different opinions.  It's a pretty good bet that everyone has at least one opinion that someone else would find offensive.  But even so, we can still be respectful to one another.  It's a matter of recognizing our own flaws before complaining about our neighbor's.

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