Now, when I say that some things annoy me, that’s not the same thing as saying that they offend me. An annoyance is like an itch, a problem that you want to do something to fix. An offense is more like a heartbreak, a stab to the soul, one that affects you at a deep emotional level. Fraudulent e-mails get on my nerves, and I want to correct whatever fallacy is being spread about. But they don’t wound my heart or make me feel disrespected. They don’t make me feel like less of a person.
Too often in American culture today (and maybe other cultures as well, I dunno — this is the only culture I’ve ever lived in, so I’m rolling with that), we seem to be all-too-prone to be offended, often by the most minor things. A politician or athlete or actor makes a poor choice of words, meaning nothing by it, and suddenly people come out of the woodwork saying how offended they are, and how the perpetrator should pay dearly for the momentary slip of the tongue. Said speaker is usually forced to apologize in some public venue (a press conference, say) and shed tears of regret for how the other person has been denigrated by their statement. If you watch the news regularly, you’ll probably see it about three times a week.
Sometimes the grievance is legitimate, and the person should apologize. Other times, however, it’s someone stirring up a tempest in their personal teapot over … well, nothing. I was just reading about an example of the latter, in a rather surprising place — the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs.
I am the most casual of casual hockey fans, not an expert by any means. I know where National Hockey League teams are located, the names of a few current star players, and that you score by knocking that flat rubber thing into a net with a big flat stick. I know players get five minutes in the penalty box for fighting, but only ’cause there’s a pop music group named after the practice; I couldn’t tell you what the punishment is for icing or high-sticking, or even what those terms mean. In one city, fans occasionally throw dead octopi onto the ice in celebration; in another they use teddy bears. And after a game, all the players on both teams form lines and shake hands with everybody on the other team, even guys they’d just been hitting with their big flat sticks moments before.
Which is where the current hissy-fit began. The final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs took place Friday night, and the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 2 goals to 1, to win the championship. Afterward, everybody lined up and did the handshake thing, but Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh’s top player and team captain, was a little late to the parade and missed pressing the flesh with a few Detroit guys. He had been injured earlier and wasn’t in the game at the end, so maybe he had to dash out of the trainer’s room to join the festivities. Or maybe he wasn’t paying attention, or was just a young guy so geeked up about winning his first championship that he forgot the usual protocol. There are a lot of possibilities. But it was just a handshake, after all — no big deal, right?
Until it was made a big deal by a Detroit player named Kris Draper.
If you want to read the details, just click here. The short version: Draper, Detroit’s alternate captain (whatever that entails) claims that he and Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom waited around, but Crosby never came to shake their hands. He called the oversight “ridiculous,” adding “and make sure you write that I said that!” Crosby, in response, stated that he’d had no intention of slighting Draper or Lidstrom or whoever, while Penguins management said they had photographs of Crosby in the greeting line and that the Detroit players had left the ice quickly (implying that it was Draper’s own dang fault). And of course, every statement was gleefully reported by the available media, for the edification (or something) of the fans.
This doesn’t answer the obvious question, which is, “who gives a flying octopus if he shook your hand, and why are you so bent about it, Kris Draper?”
Again, I’m only a casual hockey fan, so correct me if I’m wrong here … but don’t hockey players have a reputation for being tough and resilient? I’ve heard stories about old-time stars like Gordie Howe getting stitches in their face after being slashed with a stick or skate, then coming back to finish a game. I’ve heard about goalies dealing with the puck being fired at them at over 100 miles an hour without wearing face masks. Not to mention just the stamina required to spend all that time roaming around, bumping into other guys and chasing the puck on ice skates. (I can’t even stand up on ice skates, not with my bad ankles!) Hockey even has “goons,” players whose main job is to protect their team’s stars by going after anyone who threatens them and roughing them up. (Basketball used to have guys like that, too, and pitchers in baseball once took care of that responsibility by throwing at opposing players, but that’s gone out of vogue. Society as a whole is far less approving of violence than it used to be — for good reason, I think.) And yet Kris Draper is flapping his gums to the press because the other team’s captain didn’t shake his hand?!?
This is especially ironic in Draper’s case. I was trying to remember where I’d heard his name before, and it took me awhile to recall it. Years ago, in another playoff game, Draper got into an altercation with an opposing goon by the name of Claude Lemieux, and Lemieux carved up Draper’s face pretty thoroughly. (As an aside, when you hear the name “Claude Lemieux,” do you think “hockey enforcer”? Or like me, are the first words that come to your mind “interior decorator”? But I digress.) After the game, they did the usual handshake thingy, including Lemieux (but not Draper, who was still undergoing repairs), and one Dino Ciccarelli (now THAT’s a name for a goon!), a teammate of Draper’s, reflected upon pressing the flesh with Lemieux when he said “I can’t believe I shook his frigging hand!” So you have Draper’s teammate being willing — if reluctantly — to greet the man who almost turned Draper’s face into ground chuck. But an older Draper not only gets steamed when an opposing captain accidentally misses shaking his hand, he whines about it over the public airwaves. Ooooh, tough guy …
I think that at the root of this (and every other) sob-fest of offense is something that has quietly gone missing from our culture over the last few decades. It’s called forgiveness.
I’m not just talking about the act of forgiving someone, but also the mindset behind forgiving someone — the ideas that we give other people the benefit of the doubt, that we recognize we aren’t perfect either, that we try to show folks the understanding and patience that we want shown to us. We’ve all been too harsh toward someone else sometimes — I could give you a list of the times I have that would stretch from here to the Mexican border — and we’ve all had people be too harsh toward us (another list that would at least reach Nevada). None of us are perfect. But sometimes we act as if we expect others to be, and make unreasonable demands on them when they aren’t.
The key here is that when we are offended, it’s because we choose to be. That includes me — the times I have been offended by other people’s statements are the time when I CHOSE to hold onto my anger toward them instead of letting it go and moving on. It’s not always easy to let go, but for good mental health and good relationships it’s absolutely necessary. That’s what I’ve had to learn (the hard way), and what my wife and I are trying to teach our kids. Being offended is a decision we can make, or refuse.
Not that we shouldn’t do our best to avoid the kind of things that cause trouble. I’ve often said that if somebody is looking to be offended, I’ll never disappoint them — it’s not that I’m trying to, it’s just that I’ve been this way all my life, and the Holy Spirit has not cured me of it (I have asked, make no bones about it). But while it still happens on occasion, I do work hard to keep it from happening, and am always looking for better methods of prevention. Even in regard to that “urban legend” e-mail I wrote about in my last blog post, I don’t mind saying that I’ve been thinking over my response the last few days. Was I too hard on my friend who sent it to me? Should I have said it a different way? I don’t know. I do know I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, simply working to correct an easily preventable problem. If someone was hurt, I apologize, and would welcome suggestions on how to do better the next time.
But that’s the part I can control, the part I can do something about. What I can’t control is how another person receives it. If they forgive me — or consider it unimportant and just shrug it off, that’s their decision. If they hold a grudge against me and avoid me afterward, that’s also their decision. And likewise, when someone says or does something to me that I dislike, I have the option of letting it go or stewing over it. My choice is not their fault or to their credit; I am a free moral agent, and my decisions are mine alone.
What I’ve had to learn to do (and every day am still learning to do) is to make the choice to forgive and move on, even when part of me would rather give the other person what for. When Ciccarelli shook Lemieux’s hand, however reluctantly, he was making a statement that both men were part of something bigger than just one fight — they were hockey players, all in it together. When we forgive, even when we don’t want to, it’s a recognition that we’re all human, all prone to screw up and in need of second (third, fourth, 287,559th) chances. And instead of letting those things divide us, we can let our common humanity bring us together.
What if Kris Draper, instead of popping off to reporters about Sidney Crosby’s perceived snub, had simply shrugged and let it pass, or looked to Lidstrom and said jokingly, “wanna go bump him around a little, teach him some manners?” What if, were he asked about it by a reporter, he’d smiled and said, “aw, he’s young, it’s his first championship, he was probably just excited and forgot for a minute, no big deal”? What if, to use an old colloquialism, he’d acted like a man about it? I suspect that nobody would have noticed Crosby’s oaf-out. I know that Draper would look a lot less foolish now. And certainly the world would’ve kept spinning, the sun would continue to rise in the east, and hockey players would still shake hands with their opponents after a hard-fought game.
Because when you get right down to it, being offended rarely benefits anyone. There are better ways to spend our time.