Offending others

Offending others

Offending someone is a terrible thing to do. A lot of people would agree. We learn this as children and then teach it as adults. I like the noble idea: one must not offend others.

But it gets fuzzy when we try to understand what it means ‘to offend’. People seem to have various interpretations.

offend | əˈfɛnd |‌
verb‌
‌• cause to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful‌
‌• be displeasing or cause problems to‌
‌• commit an illegal act‌
‌• break a commonly accepted rule or principle

You look up the dictionary entry and you start to see the problem. That spectrum is far too wide; right from stabbing someone to burping at the table, is ‘offending’.

It is too broad and too vague.

Punching someone—that’s literally an offense you can go behind bars for. Spitting in someone's face, threatening to whack someone’s disgusting pet, elbowing somebody’s sniffly child out of your way etc. I think everyone would agree any one of these is offensive behaviour.

Then there are ‘non-physical’ type offenses: calling someone ‘ugly’ because they, well, look ugly; hurling words at someone that we have agreed are inappropriate, making gestures with our bodies or faces that are disrespectful, writing something mean and so on.

All of these are directed towards somebody else; so one has to be mindful. But sometimes offense is taken by others even when the behaviour has nothing to do with them.

Take food, for instance. Why is it offensive, in the Indian context, to refuse eating every single meal together with others? This is not to say one must be hostile as a guest or be unrelenting while having special meals. But when it is a regular affair—you meet your immediate family every day, extended family every month, friends every week, colleagues every day. Why then is it rude if you want to put food into your mouth whenever you feel the time is right? Especially since expectation don't stop at 'eating together' and extend to how much you eat, what you eat and in what order.

This is just one benign example. When it comes to people taking offense to someone living life on their own terms, there are far too many to enlist here.

Even those eager to not offend others in this manner, find that the lines between doing something of your own will and fulfilling somebody else’s expectation, start to blur very quickly. I say this as a reformed people-pleaser myself.

“He never takes our call. He is always too busy.”

“Well, they’ve been married for three years now, still no baby in sight.”

“You need to buy” xyz.

“It’s too late now, she should have gotten married earlier.”

“This lifestyle is irresponsible, you need to settle down.”

And if you are South Asian, you have at least seventy-three people in your life who have casually said one of the above to you or someone you know. It is usually delivered in the garb of 'concern'.

The herd sees any sort of deviation as a threat to its existence. The only way for the herd to exist, is to make its members toe the line.[1] This was probably a necessity when we were hunter-gatherers. It is not in the modern world. Taking offense is one of the ways to get people to stay in the herd.

Those wanting to belong to the group are first busy following its prescriptions and later proselytizing.

Those who constantly spar the group, are busy pursuing their own path, at the cost of ‘offending’ every single person in their life.

The distintion is fairly clear.

If your own internal quest offends somebody else; you must not let a day go by without offending.


  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_aeUfSlHAI&t=4240s ↩︎