Inklings of Truth


We Offend All

By Audrey Stallsmith

Note: I wrote the following in early January, intending to post it shortly thereafter. But my 85-year-old mother's sudden and unexpected death from an undiagnosed sepsis put most other things out of my mind.

In fact, I had forgotten the article until I ran across it today. So I apologize for posting about resolutions in February, but my practical mom wouldn't have wanted the piece to go to waste.

“O be careful, little tongue, what you say,” runs one line of an old children’s Sunday School song,  That's the most important resolution we should make in the New Year, since we so often hurt other people inadvertently when we speak without thinking.  Or, as James puts it, “For in many things we offend all.” (James 3:2 KJV)

As we writers tend to be over-sensitive types, I’ll also resolve to catch myself before I snipe back in my thoughts at people whose offhand remarks stab me.  Fortunately, I’m usually not brave enough to snipe back out loud!

Under those circumstances, I'll have to remind myself of how often I probably offend others.  For example, my nieces and nephews have scads of creative talents.  Their musical abilities especially impress me, since I have none whatsoever.  So I’m likely to comment on them to other people. 

If I only mention one of those nieces and nephews, however, I may seem to be slighting the others, which I don’t mean to do.  But the scramble to include everybody sounds contrived, so what’s a proud aunt to do?

Christmas also can be tricky for family members, as some people aren’t good at faking enthusiasm over gifts they don’t like.  My practical mother is one of those who will say, “I don’t need this,” or something to that effect!  While that does help with gift choosing in the future, it can be a letdown at the time.  Fortunately, she seemed to like this year’s gift, but that’s never a given. 

When she is too honest to suit me, I have to remind myself that her rejection of the gift is not a rejection of the giver.  And I recall that I used to ask myself, “Shouldn’t my family members know me well enough by now to know what I like?”  Perhaps she feels the same way. 

Eventually, I concluded that I shouldn’t expect anyone but God to be able to read my mind, and that I should tell everybody else in advance what would make me happy.  I also get them to give me a list of what they want.  Although that removes the surprise element, it does seem to make gift-giving less stressful for all concerned. 

It also could make daily life easier if we point out to our loved ones what we want and aren’t getting from them in other areas than gift giving.  Some non-seeing, lost-in-another-world types such as myself can be highly aggravating simply because we don’t notice tasks which need to be done.  So our loved ones should point them out rather than secretly stewing over our lack of consideration.

Actually, stewing about other peoples’ inadequacies can be enjoyable because it makes us feel like martyrs, but unnecessary martyrdom isn’t going to win us points with God or anyone else.  So, as with gift-giving, we can’t expect other people to read our minds, no matter how well they know us.  Being upfront about what we need to begin with can prevent our saying things we will regret later.    

I’m also trying to use the list of what offends me to remind myself of what is likely to offend other people.  For example, if I make a special effort to prepare something, such as the so-so cranberry cheesecake I made for Christmas, I expect that effort to be acknowledged and can get bent out of shape if it isn’t.  Fortunately, my family is kind about complimenting my desserts—and at tactfully refraining from pointing out that the syrup topping made the cheesecake soggy.

Not being a naturally observant type myself, I need to make a point of paying attention, so I can acknowledge other people’s efforts in return.  I’ve learned from my own experience, though, that some compliments can be more insulting than uplifting.  

For example, acting surprised over a friend’s accomplishments is a no-no, since it assumes that we didn’t expect much from them.  And the way we deliver positive feedback to some people could insult others who overhear.   If—for example—I were to tell a visiting pastor, “That’s the best sermon I ever heard,” how would that make my usual pastor feel?

So, when we are bothered by what other people say to or about us, we can learn what not to do.  In other words, what hurts us can teach us how not to hurt others. 

When my mother caught her sock on the edge of a register, fell, and cut her lip recently, I only could sympathize.  But, a few days later, I tripped over a footstool in the dark and hit the floor hard, cutting my chin on a corner of the rocking chair in the process.  Then I empathized! 

I hadn’t really remembered what the shock of a sudden fall feels like until then.  It not only hurts.  It shakes your confidence as well as the floor. 

It’s always the bad reviews we writers and other artistic types remember because they, too, shake our confidence.  So we need to think before we speak, lest we inadvertently deliver a bad “review” to someone else.