There are 7.7 billion people on planet Earth. All of these people have beliefs that conflict with yours—all of them.
While you might share a religious faith with some part of Earth’s population, you have conflicting beliefs about politics with approximately half of the community whose faith you share. You might also split from some significant part of that same population in their interpretation of the faith.
You might share your politics with half the population of your country. That population would be made up of people who share other beliefs with you. Even when some people share your broad political views, you will find people who disagree with you on the issues of the day and how best to resolve them from a political perspective, even when they share your broader view. The media does its best to remind you of your differences every two years in the United States.
There are factions with strongly-held beliefs about the way human beings organize themselves economically, with different ideas about how much companies and industries should be regulated and how much they should pay in taxes. Your belief lies somewhere on a continuum that contains a wide variety of ideas and opinions, with people occupying lots of different points between the extremes.
Let’s look at something less divisive, but where there are still arguments over what is good and right and true.
There is a large population of people with extreme opinions about what constitutes a healthy human diet. Some people believe you should not eat animals, some believe you should only eat animals (a few of whom Twitter banned for sharing images of carnivores eating their prey, as it offended some), and some who believe you should eat mostly fat. My grandmother would have been offended by all these positions, believing instead that you should eat whatever you want. Her diet consisted of fried foods, desserts, and she used bacon grease as salad dressing (she lived to be 92 years old, and drank a shot of Scotch before bed every night, and we suspect she sneaked a bit more than a single shot over her last few years).
The categories and wide spectrum of beliefs and opinions are too great to be able to find consensus on any one thing–even in a population that agrees on much. If you have to be offended by beliefs that differ from yours, then you have to be offended by everyone on Earth, in all places, at all times, an idea that is exhausting even to write. If you do agree on everything with someone, the banality of the conversation must be be enough to cause the deepest of sleep.
Why You Should Not Be Offended
The very best reason not to be offended by what others believe is that it has no bearing on what you believe. Thankfully, your happiness does not require that the rest of the world share your views, nor does their happiness require you to share theirs. Ben & Jerry’s makes a variety of different flavors, and I am certain they have one that you will prefer.
More still, there is a reason to avoid being offended by everything and everyone as it pertains to your mindset, and that is the fact that being constantly offended is infects you with negativity, scarcity, and a sense of cynicism. You may have noticed that people who watch only “outrage television” tend to always to be outraged. You may also notice that they view the world through a lens that splits people into “us” and “them,” and in doing so, defines an enemy. As my Jewish, liberal, atheist friend, Howard Bloom says, “Politics is permission to hate.”
Being offended by others and believing them to be your enemy is a debilitating belief system that massive limits the quality of your life.
And yet, there is still more to say about the benefits of not being offended by people, ideas, and beliefs with which you disagree. When you have to be offended by things with which you disagree, you cut yourself off from other ideas and insights and relationships. It is not only possible to have deep and rich relationships with people across the political spectrum without being offended by their beliefs, you may find it beneficial. Instead of being irritated, you could discover their opinions are interesting—and their perspective might even be enlightening—an outcome that is not possible if you are offended or outraged.
How Not to Be Offended
Recognize you have different beliefs and opinions and preferences from everyone else on Earth, even people with whom you have some shared beliefs. Recognize that they have the same right to hold those beliefs that conflict with yours, as well as the right to express them. Be grateful you share that right.
When there is no requirement that you share someone else’s beliefs, there is no harm to you when other people express theirs. It is only when one wishes to impose their beliefs on others, or acts on beliefs that harm others that should cause offense–or in the worst of cases, outrage. Wanting the world to conform to your beliefs in every area of life is the belief system of the totalitarian.
While I hope you adopt the belief that you don’t have to be offended or outraged by other people’s beliefs and opinions, I won’t be offended if you don’t.