My Dance Partner Was Offended. Was She Right?
I’m wrestling with ancient wisdom today. Last night I read this couplet from the Biblical book of Proverbs:
A person’s wisdom yields patience;
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
I think this particular virtue is rare in our culture. We take offense at everything. Our pique fuels round-the-clock news shows and ceaseless streams of vlogger venom. I find it hard to engage church folk in conversation about cultural issues without awakening offense of some kind. We seem to have misplaced this particular virtue of forgone fury.
Last week, my wife and I went to a dance class. While the instructor demonstrated, all the students rotated partners. I found myself standing next to a scowling young lady with bright red lipstick whose rhythm seemed begrudged. Just at that moment, the instructor said, “Leaders, think of your follower as your paintbrush. If you direct her where to go, she’ll be beautiful.” My young partner dropped my hand and said, “So I’m just an object here.”
I understand that sentiment. The objectification of women is an enormous problem in our culture. And while I don’t think the dance instructor was at all chauvinist (he worked hard, in fact, not to assume that men would lead in the dance and women follow), I can imagine how his metaphor seemed to a young woman facing stereotypes and limitations in a culture that produces glamour mags, imbalanced paychecks, and Candidate Trump.
Was she right to be offended? Or should have Rosa Parks heeded the Good Book, overlooked another offense, and stood from her seat? At what point does the wisdom of humility become the foolishness of enabling? Can the wise be identified by their surrendered rights? Does dignity reside exclusively with the foolish?
I don’t have an answer because I’m not sure there is one. It is virtuous, sometimes, to overlook an offense — to engage in a kind of instant forgiveness that gives others the benefit of the doubt. And it is virtuous, sometimes, to take offense in the cause of justice.
Wisdom might be knowing which is which.