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Thu, May 06

Haddad: It's a choice to take offense, hold a grudge or to show compassion

On a windy, rainy day a few years ago my wife and I found paper money smearing across the windshield of our vehicle.

We had just returned to our car after shopping at a home improvement store in Prescott. Because of the heavy rain we had not noticed that someone left a note under the driver’s side windshield wiper. The wipers had been in the on position when we arrived so the blades instantly started moving when we started the car. The note and money fanned out before our eyes. Fortunately, the rain caused the money to stick to the glass rather than blow away.

I jumped out and gathered the bills and the note, eager to discover the reason for the mystery cash.

The money totaled $29 in various bills. The note read, “I am sorry. The door to our car was caught by the wind and hit your car. I hope this money helps with the cost to fix the dent we caused. It’s all I had.”

Anyone who has had a car dent repaired knows $29 will not go very far at a body shop. However, for my wife and me, this person’s gesture wasn’t just about correcting something aesthetic.

As we navigate life, we’ll all be the cause of a few dents in the lives of others. Some of the pits we create will be accidental, through no deliberate motive or fault. Other dents will be because we allowed our words or actions to be caught up in the winds of emotions. These offer an opportunity for repair if we are willing to take responsibility, try to provide restoration and commit to do better. Other dents are caused by hearts filled with selfishness, greed or malice. These are the most damaging of all.

But in many cases there is also a responsibility that falls on the dented individual. We have a choice to make that can directly determine how deep and lasting the dents will be.

It’s a choice to take offense. It’s a choice to hold a grudge. It’s also a choice to show compassion or practice empathy. And it’s a choice to offer forgiveness.

In recent years we’ve been bombarded with sound bites from high-profile individuals who quickly cast harsh judgments on others, often prematurely and with tones of hate or anger. This behavior from politicians, actors, athletes and authors sometimes motivates others to mimic their words and actions. When practiced excessively, this criticism culture leads to closed minds and broad-brush wrong assumptions about others. It’s unhealthy and divisive, and can lead to mob-mentality judgment and erase the hope of redemption or second chances for those who have no ill intent or truly just made a mistake. Those casting and encouraging the throwing of such stones sometimes act as if they have never faltered or experienced a misstep.

These behaviors cultivate a societal environment wherein the person casting offense is sometimes glorified, and taking offense is overly justified.

While we can’t always control the offensive behavior of others, we can decide whether we will take offense. Sadly, some people seem to go out of their way to look for things to offend them. As the English theologian John Wesley said, “People who wish to be offended will always find some occasion for taking offense.”

When we are dented by an offense, we might consider two courses of action a person can follow when bitten by a rattlesnake. We can act in anger, fear or vengefulness and pursue the creature in an effort to kill it, or we can make haste to get the poison out of our system. One leads to healing, the other circulates the venom and continues to spread poison.

Perhaps the best summation of this can be found in counsel credited to Confucius who taught, “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”

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