The best way to respond when someone offends you

“Are you having twins?” he asked, innocently enough. Little did he know, he wasn’t the first person to ask me this particular question. And, eight months into my fourth full-term pregnancy, kindness was not my default response.

“No,” I curtly replied.

“Are you sure?” he questioned.

We were at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and he was working at the entrance to one of the exhibits. It was obvious that this twenty-something college student had yet to learn what married men understand well. That’s this: Don’t ever, under any circumstance, mention how large with child a woman is. And never, ever, ever ask her if she’s having twins.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I responded, with clear snark in my voice. “I’ve had several ultrasounds and I’m not having twins.”

I felt justified in my rude reaction … at least, at first. As we walked away, my husband Ted commented, “You realize that was the first time he had asked you that question, right? You weren’t very nice in your reply.”

Suddenly, I felt badly about my unfriendly reaction.

While yes, perhaps this man shouldn’t have boldly asked a very pregnant woman a question such as this, it didn’t give me the right to respond unkindly.

Maybe you’ve had your own moment of snarkiness, whether in person or online. It could be that you’ve encountered a driver who cuts you off in traffic, a grumpy person in line at your favorite coffee shop, a difficult co-worker, or a friend online who posts an update you find offensive, and you too have asserted yourself with a less-than-kind response.

If so, let me say, I get it. I understand how easy it is to react with defensiveness and abruptness.

Yet, as Jesus followers, you and I are challenged to respond differently. In Colossians 4:6, we’re encouraged to let our words “always be gracious” (ESV). Gracious speech being defined as “pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous.” Yet, as Jesus followers, you and I are challenged to respond differently.

How can you and I strive to respond in a gracious or kind and Christ-honoring manner, especially when we don’t feel like the other person deserves it?

Whether we’re interacting face-to-face or online, here are few attitudes and assumptions we can practice to help our default response be that of kindness, not snark.

  1. Reject a “me-first” response

Consider what your first response tends to be when someone offends or hurts you. Maybe it’s surprise. Or perhaps indignation. For many of us, our focus immediately turns to what’s been done to us or how we’ve been wronged.

He cut in front of me in line.

She spoke to me in a condescending manner.

He disagreed with me on Facebook.

Yet, the Bible challenges us to constantly shift our focus away from ourselves. In Philippians 2, we’re exhorted to count others as more important, putting their interests above our own. Responding with kindness starts here.

Read this: When you’re tempted to disobey God

When we reject a “me-first” response and adopt an “other-first” response, it causes us to slow down and more carefully consider how our reactions will affect the other person. This lays the groundwork in our hearts for grace and understanding, which in turn helps us be more kind.

  1. Assume you only have a partial story

At our house, we listen to a lot of Broadway musical soundtracks. What we’ve discovered, though, is that when we listen, we only get a partial story. With the exception of a few shows like Les Miserables, the soundtrack is missing dialogue that drives the show’s narrative.

Most of the time, the same is true of the people with whom we interact. We see an individual in a specific moment, which may not be their best. But, if we aren’t within their inner circle, we rarely know the full story.

Yet how often do we respond to a momentary offense without considering this?

Take, for example, the man at the museum. Just as he didn’t realize I’d been asked that same question continually, I didn’t know what experience he brought to the situation.  Perhaps he had a sister, a friend, or a neighbor who was having twins. Maybe he was eager to add to the conversation, “My sister is having twins too!” While this may seem far-fetched, and perhaps it is, when I think like this, I’m more cautious in how I respond.

  1. Encourage yourself to believe the best about others

My husband Ted’s default is to believe the best about other people’s motives and actions. He doesn’t read too much into what they say. Sure, sometimes he’s later disappointed to discover his faith was misplaced. But he prefers to take them at face value and offer the benefit of the doubt, even so.

When you and I determine not to fill in the missing details of someone else’s story, it’s easier for us to be like Ted and believe the best of others.

What are some ways we can remind ourselves to do so when we’d rather bring negative assumptions and suspicions to the table? We can ask ourselves these questions:

  • Do I know the full story of why this individual has acted or spoken like this?
  • Could there a difficult situation or circumstance influencing their behavior?
  • Have I ever acted poorly and wished others extended me more grace and understanding, but they didn’t?

In his book, Death by Living, N.D. Wilson writes:

Your life will contribute to a grand and wonderful story no matter what you do. You are here, existing choosing, living, shaping the future and carving the past… We have been called into this art as characters, born into this thread of occurrence… We will contribute to this narrative. But how?

Whether it’s a driver who cuts us off in traffic, a grumpy person in line at your favorite coffee shop, a difficult co-worker, or a friend online who posts an update we find offensive, let’s all determine to contribute well to this narrative of which we’re a part.

I believe this means choosing kindness over snark, even when we’d rather not. And for me, this includes the man who asked me if I was having twins.

After we exited the exhibit, I looked for him. Even if perhaps he had spoken when he shouldn’t have, I still wanted to apologize for my rudeness. However, he was no longer working at the entrance.

Even though I was unable to tell him I was sorry for my snarkiness, this interaction still informs my reactions today. While I don’t always succeed in being kind when I should, I’m reminded how important it is that my words “always be gracious.”

Now read this: The hard truth about humility

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