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Does This Offend You?

By: Stuart Knight (Founder and CEO) | February 28, 2024




Decades ago, when I first began my career as a professional speaker, it didn’t take much for me to get offended.  Someone could glance at their cell phone, whisper something to the person sitting next to them or look at the clock while I was delivering a speech, and I would be offended.  Another embarrassing example of this would happen when I’d be bothered by the one person who chose not to join the hundreds of other people giving me a standing ovation at the end of a talk.  Instead of being thrilled by those applauding loudly, I’d be offended by the person who was not.


But then something changed.  With more and more keynotes under my belt, I found myself in the situation where I would end up talking to that person in the audience who kept glancing at their phone, chatting with their friend or looking at the clock.  I’d even find myself talking to the people who refused to join everyone else in the standing ovation.  And during those conversations, I quickly discovered that the offence I had taken was misguided as I listened to them tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation, along with the specific ways they felt it had changed their life.



In short, it left me feeling like a fool.  My offence had been rooted in the belief that since I had worked so hard and had taken so many risks to be on that stage, that at the very least the people in the audience could show a little respect.  Ha!  I’m even laughing at myself as I write these words, because with the wisdom experience brings, I now know that the only thing I can control is the way in which I choose to show up in life.  Trying to control how others show up is next to impossible.  Now don’t get me wrong, there have been many times over the years where I have had to call out rude behaviour by an audience member who cannot seem to grasp the most basic concepts of politeness, and believe that there does come a time and a place where some people need a little “controlling”.  However I’ve also learned that those moments are far rarer than I used to think.


Which brings me to an observation that I have recently been making about the world around me.  It feels like things are collectively going in the exact opposite direction from what I experienced in my own life individually.  With the passing of time, instead of people learning to be less offended by things the way I did, they are in fact becoming more offended with each passing day.  Everywhere you look, it seems more and more people are convinced that others are out to get them, or take them down in some sort of capacity.  I suspect that in some rare cases this is true, and when that happens something should be done about it.  But is it possible that more often than not, we are reacting to offences we perceive to be real that are in fact not real at all?  Just like the reaction to stories I made up about my past audience members, is it possible that people are reacting to stories within their own minds that do not exist?



Is it possible that your boss, colleague, friend or neighbour are just living their life, and don’t actually have a nefarious plan to ruin yours?  Is it possible that your spouse is just a little distracted by life these days, and is still very much in love with you even though they didn’t cuddle with you in bed last night?  Is it possible that the world is not as bad as some groups of people, whose business model requires that to be true, would like us to believe?  Perhaps human beings are pretty awesome, and although we have miles to go, we can acknowledge the miles we’ve traveled thus far?  Maybe every misspoken word, forgotten high five and ill timed joke is not deeply rooted racism, homophobia or sexism?  Maybe we don’t carry such hate in our hearts as others claim?  If that were true, perhaps there is room for human beings to show greater empathy, and become better at being able to decipher between what is genuinely offensive and what is not?


I love this planet, and everything within it, and want nothing but the best for all that sits upon this giant rock hurtling through outer space.  And it worries me to think how we are slowly becoming a species that instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, we assume the worst.  And that feels like the exact opposite to who we are.  When we first enter the world, we are surrounded by love, and I’m convinced we carry that love within us throughout our entire lives, even if we don’t always feel its presence.  It’s a fire within us that wants to burn brightly, but we make that difficult if we keep trying to stamp it out!


We have all been hurt, cheated, lied to and scapegoated.  We have all been let down, let go and on the receiving end of some pretty horrible words.  We have all felt loss, shame, ignored and overlooked.  But I am here today to tell you that for all the pain these moments brought to our lives, they don’t represent the true core of humanity.  Yes, we human beings have a great capacity to operate on some pretty low levels, but when given a chance to love, our hearts have proven to be immeasurably large.  



Knowing this, I invite you to embrace a new approach to life.  Instead of being offended as a default and assuming the worst, consider seeing a potential best case scenario.  What if you were more open to the story you see in your mind being one that you mistakenly made up?  What if the mistake made by another person was completely unintended?  And if it was intended, what if instead of punishing the offender, you searched for ways to help them see the world through new eyes?  What if you trusted that human beings have an unlimited reservoir of love within them, and your opportunity is to help them dig a little deeper to find it?


I still get offended today, and when it happens, I try my best to take this approach.  It doesn’t work every time, but more often than not it does.  And when that happens, I find myself feeling a little lighter, a heck of a lot less angry and more open to the wonderful possibilities this world, and the people in it, have to offer.


I hope nothing less than the same for you!


Much love,

Stuart





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