208-376-1701 bryan@bryanyager.com

First a quote: “Try hard not to offend others, try harder not to be offended’.” ― Dan Crenshaw

Good morning and happy Monday!

When facilitating workshops, I enjoy sharing stories as a way of passing along lessons I have learned throughout my career and lifetime. Today, I share a story about a lesson I learned after telling one of those many stories.

For many years I recounted a story about how a sheriff and his deputies used a creative approach for luring criminals from expansive rural areas to a concert location where those criminals might be more easily arrested. The story ends with a record number of criminals being successfully arrested and loaded into an awaiting Paddy-Wagon behind the concert venue.

Let me remind you, I told this same story for many years to perhaps hundreds of workshop participants.

After one such workshop, a woman approached me after class with complimentary feedback about the day. She also asked if she could share some critical feedback with me as well. “Of course,” was my answer. Critical feedback provides a mechanism for all of us to learn, grow, and improve. It also helps us become more aware of other, often contrasting, perspectives and lenses on life… and I suggest, a source of wisdom.

She said, “Bryan, I can tell you genuinely care about your participants. I can also tell you have the best intentions for making a positive difference in the lives of others. Your compassion for others is obvious to me. Recognizing your good intentions, I suspect you’re unaware that your story may be offensive to some groups of people. Bryan, I don’t think you realize the term ‘Paddy-wagon’ may be offensive to people of Irish descent, perhaps others as well.”

She was absolutely correct. I did have good intentions, AND I had unknowingly been using a questionable term without understanding its meaning or its origin.  While there is some dispute as to the term’s true origins, it is seen by many as a derogatory slur. For many, the term is an anti-Irish slur, born during a time when the Irish were often discriminated against in many parts of the world including England and the United States.

Perhaps it was my ignorance on the topic, or maybe it was just thoughtlessness on my part, or perhaps, it was just another good example of the unconscious bias we all have lurking in the recesses of our minds.

How many of us remember being taught a children’s ditty which started with, “This old man, he played one, he played knickknack on my thumb… with a knick-knack paddywhack, give the dog a bone, this old man came rolling home”? I certainly do and never questioned the lyrics as anything more than a cute rhyming song used in part to teach me how to count to ten. (Click the link above to read one theory about the possible meaning behind those lyrics.)

“To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.”

– David Bednar

My point here is not to debate the term, or the degree of its offensiveness, or who that term might offend. The focus of my missive today is to share the lessons I learned from a person who cared enough about me to assist in my understanding and growth as a caring human being.

Here are the lessons I learned that day:

  • Check your heart & intentions first. Before you engage another person about being offended by them, ask yourself this question: Are my intentions to be helpful, hurtful, or perhaps even vengeful? In my situation, the participant had a desire to help me be more informed about phrases I was using and why those words might be offensive to some people.
  • Have the courage to confront with compassion. My participant could have gone on her way, saved the time, and not risked whatever my reaction might have been. She had no idea how I might have responded to her feedback; would I react positively, or might I have been angry and/or ugly in my response? The key here is to confront with compassion. I prefer the term “inform” with compassion.
  • Assume positive intent in others. Have the wisdom and patience to see a person’s helpful intentions, those helpful intentions may be hidden below a pile of pent-up emotions, or a basket of misinformation. In my case, I was simply uninformed about the baggage associated with a term I had been using for years. Yes, some might even say I was ignorant about the word and its full meaning.

“Being easily offended is a lot like worry; it keeps you busy and achieves nothing.” – R. H. Lelchuk

  • Acknowledge the person’s positive intentions first. In the situation above, my participant, sensed my heart and compassion. She then acknowledged my helpful intentions before she offered the critical feedback. She said my intentions to make a positive impact on others were obvious, prior to noting that there was something getting in the way of those helpful intentions.
  • Forgive the offender and the offense. I often wonder how many times I have unintentionally offended others, or have been offensive, simply out of carelessness, sometimes thoughtlessness, and yes, even out of ignorance. I was so grateful for this woman’s forgiveness, grace, understanding, and more importantly, her willingness to confront and inform me. I plan to pay that forgiveness forward to others.
  • Strive to be a positive influence in the lives of others. Through her approach, I am now more enlightened. (at least on that topic). And, other than in this article for instructive purposes, I have never used that term since. That participant made a positive difference in my life, and now through this story, possibly your life and countless others.

I hope you found today’s missive to be insightful and instructive. Those were my intentions.

Where might you have been unintentionally offensive? Maybe this is a good week to ask for feedback from those who care about you. How will you live, love, or lead differently, or better, this week?

Related MMM articles:


Bryan Yager

“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”

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Bonus Quotes:

  • “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” – Augusten Burroughs
  • “That which offends you only weakens you. Being offended creates the same negative energy that offended you in the first place-so transcend your ego and stay in peace.” – Wayne Dyer
  • “Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you. I’ll not willingly offend, nor be easily offended.” – Bruce Lee
  • “The feeling of being offended is a warning indicator that is showing you where to look within yourself for unresolved issues.” – Bryant McGill
  • “People who wish to be offended will always find some occasion for taking offense.” – John Wesley
  • “Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself.” – Harriet Nelson
  • “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11)
  • “Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right.” – Ricky Gervais
  • “We insist on near perfection in everyone except ourselves. But if our course is questioned we become offended.” – Sterling W. Sill
  • “When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself, and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.” – Epictetus