27 January 2013

Begging Pardon

Giles Revell's black and white images of common insects 
I learned this week that a reader was offended by something I wrote here. This triggered a series of remembrances, other times in the past when I've learned I offended someone. It also connected with something I'd been thinking about in the recent past; a sense that people are taking offense more frequently. Does it follow that we must also be committing offenses more frequently?

In terms of human evolution, why would this be happening?

When we are offended, we say that our "feelings" are hurt. As though our feelings were an entity, content and intact, until you came along and did or said whatever you did or said and ZING!!! an arrow right into the heart of tender Feeling. Why'd you have to come along and mess things up?

We say that we "feel" we are owed an apology.

Pay up!

Human dramas driven by themes of "offense" and "apology" are fraught with treacherous tangents and barely hidden undercurrents and can also be highly volatile. High emotion frequently has this effect on human interaction. A party to the interaction feels offended and all subsequent interaction is filtered through this perception.The other party may then experience intense "feelings" of guilt or shame, fear or anger, or pity...

The Offended Matrix becomes the grid within which subsequent interaction occurs.


Photo credit: Ciosuconstantin from
Sometimes, someone actually says aloud to another: "I'm really offended by what you just said (or wrote)."

[Note:  Sometimes this is thought but not expressed aloud to the offending party. Sometimes it is felt but does not consciously register as 'offense', just a vague sense of embarrassment or discomfort.]

Sometimes there's unspoken subtext, e.g., an accusation or demand:  "You are a mean (rude or insensitive or selfish) person!" or "You don't love me! (enough)" or "Say you're sorry!"

But when we feel we've been offended, it can be difficult to admit, even to ourselves, to subtext.

This is one of the reasons it's so hard to transform or escape the Offended Matrix. It is Ego in action, doing what Ego does. Standing in the center of the Universe, screaming "There's something wrong!" Resisting resolution. Insisting crisis. Ego will not be consoled.

Which is where the complicated tendrils of the Apology Matrix overlap with the Offended Matrix. The Offended is waiting to hear the Apology and feel the anticipated relief (or vindication or affirmation or ....). The Offender may quickly respond with sincere and effusive expressions in an attempt to deliver what the Offended desires, all the while feeling anxious "Will it be enough? Am I saying it right? Can I make him/her feel better?"

Or Ego may manifest in the Offender as "You're wrong! I did not offend you. My motives are pure. I will not apologize." It's as though the Offender is now offended by the accusation of having committed offense...  Psychic mise en abyme.

ArtistSalvador Dalí
Typeoil on canvas
Dimensions100 cm × 79 cm (25.2 in × 31.1 in)
LocationMuseum Boymans-van Beuningen,Rotterdam

Sometimes the news is delivered by a third party. Or a fourth party:  "I ran into Jeanette at the market and she told me her sister was really offended the other day when you said ___________." Now the Offended and Apology Matrices are overlaid with a Voyeur Matrix. What is the third or fourth party's emotional orientation? What are you feeling when you tell someone that someone else was offended by something they did?


Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.
mevlana jelaluddin rumi - 13th century