Offended, not offensive

"We're one finger away from peace" mural

We live in the era of offense.

Those on the left are offended by the right’s climate denial, racism, homophobia, and lack of compassion for the poor. Those on the right are offended by the left’s handouts and dependency culture, lack of respect for religious freedom, and willingness to bolster oppressive governments. We call people out if they don’t use the most up-to-date politically correct term. We call people out for not signaling the appropriate amount of respect for the military.

“That’s offensive!”, we all cry, pointing at one another, blaming one another. This is offense culture.

Let me be clear about what offense culture is and what it isn’t. Offense culture is not feeling and expressing your pain or trauma, caused by a lifetime of abuse or lifetimes of oppression. Offense culture is not letting people know that there are real impacts and consequences to their behavior. Offense culture is not caring enough to try and drive change.

Offense culture is labeling those you disagree with as offensive, disgusting, vile, deplorable, un-American, or whatever the nastiest word you can think of is. Offense culture is blaming other people for your feelings and believing you are in the right, that you are actually enabling real change in doing so. Offense culture is convincing yourself that compassion is not possible or helpful.

I believe it’d be most helpful if we all agreed to simply take “offensive” out of our vocabulary altogether. Is there really anything that is truly inherently or necessarily offensive as a law of the universe? No, something can only be offensive to someone based on their own expectations and values. Something can only be offensive to someone if they believe their perspective is the only valid or reasonable way to see something.



Nothing is every truly offensive. The only thing we can know for certain is that “I am offended.”

In this shift from offensive to offended, we acknowledge that if we are feeling offense, we have unresolved emotion or trauma within us. We acknowledge that offense is more about who is offended than who is offending. Offense is about you not being able to accept someone else’s values or perspectives.

In my experience, when I acknowledge that I am offended, I acknowledge and center my pain. I acknowledge the fact that no healing will ever come unless I heal myself first. If I am offended, I have work to do. I transmute blame into personal reflection and compassion. It doesn’t mean it mean I don’t want to change the world anymore. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe others’ behaviors are damaging. It just believes that if I am feeling disgust and sorting people into “good” and “bad”, then I am part of the problem.

When we do eventually work past our feelings of pain and offense, eventually we can arrive at the most empowered, impactful space imaginable. Let’s call it “righteous concern.”

Righteous concern is where we are wholly committed to enacting change, yet also able to see the humanity in all sides, all perspectives. We care enough to want to change the world, but we all hold compassion and understand for all. I believe this is the space from which all real, revolutionary change originates. Because how can we truly drive change if we don’t understand what we are trying to change? How can we create space for someone to reconsider their actions when we are forcing them to defend and protect themselves and their tribes?

Righteous concern = Offense minus blame and disgust


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Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA with his partner Sara, child Owen, and cat Winnie.

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