Monday, January 1, 2018

Unoffendable, How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better, by Brant Hansen (2015)

A friend recommended I read this book. By the end of this review you might have your answer as to why. Personally, I’m glad he did. Out of the hundreds of books I’ve read over the course of my life, only a handful have convicted me about how I’m living or how I ought to live. This is one of those life-changing books.

Initially, Hansen’s tone appeared far too casual wear for my refined tastes. T-shirts, spotty jeans, zircon jewelry, and off-brand shoes have their place, but unless I’m painting my house or in my garden, I’m less likely to don a straw hat and tube socks. By this I mean Hansen’s writing is highly pedestrian, conversational to the point of being overly familiar. My inner response to his prose was to gasp on occasion as I fanned myself. I prefer a more respectable wardrobe – name-brands, real leather, high quality corduroy, twenty-four carat gold, and a partridge in my pear tree. Either that or a peacock. Or, while we’re dreaming, a bird of paradise.

I realize not everything worth reading must qualify as a white tie event. But I do sometimes wish the maître d’ would force some of these writers sporting shorts and sandals to leave the premises. I prefer the finer works of dead authors, those whose diction smells of lilac and jasmine. The sort of writing that, if bottled, would qualify as top shelf spirits. Essentially diamonds, not zircons. Rich in flavor. Call me a snob (which I am), but Hansen’s overly conversational, almost flippant, structure came across as reckless. At first anyway.

The author soon won me over, however, with his insightful wit and personal, multitudinous, anecdotes. I chuckled often and laughed several times, and, surprisingly, got teary-eyed in places too. (Keep in mind this post isn’t a sworn affidavit to that effect. Hence, I can always deny this if pressed.) 

Before we examine the merits of Hansen’s book, I should explain where I’m coming from. I’ve written about this in previous posts, so I’ll only summarize here. Like any teen, I rebelled against my upbringing, but in ways that surprised those within the field of developmental psychology. I didn’t simply reject my youthful habit of watching television; to this day I refuse to have a TV in my house. And, yes, a part of me either scorns or pities those who watch TV, depending on my mood.

I didn’t simply reject my religious upbringing, either; I became a self-professed atheist for well over a decade. I didn’t merely reject the emotional dynamism of my mother; I observed the chaos that resulted from her emotionally driven decisions and vowed to refuse my own emotional palate at all costs. I consequently became a cold logician. In the mix, I ended up rejecting anything proletariat since such a class leans toward contempt of things cerebral or abstract.

Instead, I demanded greater quality, fine music, literature, and other interests that, if given voice, would declare: I’m better than you. In fact I’d argue, and have, that my autodidactic pilgrimage, which began at age eighteen, was my effort to redeem myself for all the time I wasted wallowing in mediocrity as a middle-class child staring at the cathode ray and attending public school. 

I don’t recommend holding society in contempt or becoming a cynic of pop culture and television unless you, like me, are comfortable in your own skin, enjoy your own company, practice pastimes generally done in solitude (reading, writing), and possess a sufficient amount of personal fortitude (or what I modestly refer to as awesome sauce) to get you through the day. In short, being me requires a thick hide and a strong stomach. I assure you, however, the rewards, while not contributing to your resumé or your IRA, are significant.

Over time, I became less relatable to most everyone I knew. Not deliberately, of course. I just honed in on what interested me, regardless whether anyone else in my immediate orbit cared. Plus, as I got older, I became more discriminate about how I wanted to spend my time and with whom I wanted to spend it. I consequently morphed into a curmudgeon. Worse, I grew unfashionably posh, a prude in the company of vulgarians.  

Yes, despite my annual earnings, social status, and the cost of my wardrobe (or perhaps to compensate for lack of these things), I assumed a superior position, regarding myself as better than my peers. To my mind, I had more in common with the last vestige of the American aristocracy than I had with my own flesh and blood. After all, I’d never been amused by belching or flatulence, even as a child. Yet most within my sphere growing up were, to be polite, uncivilized. My father drank wine on the rocks. My brother’s idea of seasoning a steak was to marinade it in Ketchup. No. I was high-minded, cultured, hygienic, and, unlike modern brutes, I covered my mouth when I coughed. To this day, I remain convinced I was adopted, perhaps a bastard child smuggled out of the home of a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt family.

My idea of fun has never involved watching football and, since entering adulthood, I’ve never deliberately attended a firework display or a parade. Such things are lowbrow, appealing to plebs, which is bad enough, and advertisers, which is worse. In mixed company, to entertain myself, I silently count the number of times people pepper their speech with the word ‘like.’

Most people I interact with on a daily basis would never suspect I entertain these views, by the way. I’m a professional. For one, I absolutely love my job. For two, I have a commendable work ethic. For three, I’m a gentleman. In short, apart from making these stunning confessions on my blog (a blog, I might add, most will never view), I keep my own counsel.

I mention all of this to demonstrate a contrast. Before I read Brant Hansen’s book Unoffendable, How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better, I was the consummate ass. Don’t misunderstand. I haven’t become a saint as a result of this book. But I’ve improved. I even forgave a number of people who’ve wronged me over the years. I haven’t contacted them to tell them this, of course. This would mean resuming relations with them again at some point. No, thanks. But I’ve acknowledged to myself that I was just, if not more, to blame for the dissolution of those relationships. And that, my inferior friend, is progress.

The truth is I’m a simple man with pleasures most find tedious. My retirement fund is laughable. I’ve got goals most doubt I’ll achieve. And, while I’m at it, I’ve got a penchant for coffee so doctored as to qualify as hot ice cream. Not that I care what anyone else thinks anymore, apart from my financial advisor, oh, and my physician, since, let’s be honest, most people are idiots. Truly. Some offense. Let’s face it: most adults don’t know how to spell. Many can’t even read, certainly not at their grade level. Get out on the road and you’ll discover most can’t even drive. Debated anyone recently? Most can’t think rationally or articulate what they’re trying to say. This includes college graduates. So why would I even want such people in my orbit?

Not that I’m entirely satisfied with my own life, of course. While close to perfection, I’m not quite there. I’ve got lots to accomplish before I’m ready to retire. This might explain, at least in part, why I refuse to date, keep to myself, and assume roles. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy good fellowship and conversation, provided the subject matter is worthy of my attention. But I’ve been known to engage in performance art. Pretend. Even much of my blogging involves assuming a personality or an attitude and adopting a corresponding syntax. Excuse me while I clear my throat.

Back to Hansen’s book. Hansen maintains that we tend to take offense at nearly everything. What others say, do, and even believe (even when not directed toward us personally), elicits our righteous indignation. We all have a sense of justice, especially when a perceived injustice is imposed upon us. The irony is that we’re just as guilty of giving offense, often deliberately, but fail to see these offenses as comparable to those we suffer from others. 

Hansen’s persuasive power is found in his anecdotes. In rapid fire, he poses real life circumstances with which the rest of us utterly identify. I grew ashamed by the number of times I saw myself in these situations and how my default mode, as with most everyone else, was to become angry or offended in some way.

So while I’d love to report that I’m a good person, that as an adult I’ve reached a dizzying plateau of consciousness and understanding, the truth is I’m not a model citizen, or a great (and well-endowed) lover, or an intellect the morons of Mensa International envy. In fact, I’m a royal jerk. Which is why I defer to my surefire cliché, namely that I’m a work in progress. Worded differently, I haven’t yet arrived. I’ve still got gobs to learn. (This learning process is a huge part of why I read. To learn. To grow in ways unmeasurable by science.)

I should clarify that Hansen doesn’t merely explain that we as a society have no reason to take offense, that we’re just as guilty of the things we identify and resent in others. No. Hansen is a Christian too. So his ultimate message is that as Christians, we’re not only instructed to abandon what he refers to as ‘righteous anger’ (since such things are God’s domain, not ours), but we’re instructed to forgive as well.

I’ll admit this is hard, particularly for me. I especially related to Hansen’s examples of being cut off in traffic by idiots either oblivious or indifferent to their immediate surroundings. His instruction forced me to look inward, at myself, at the fact that if I were honest, I’d have to admit that I’m just as guilty of stupidity in some other ways, that I probably annoy others too, which, incidentally, I’m sure, if confronted with, I would justify or rationalize, at least in my own head, just as everyone else does.

Stepping back and saying a quick prayer, essentially applying Hansen’s advice, has reduced my high blood pressure. That alone is worth the cost of this book. In addition, you’ll laugh. Perhaps you’ll cry too. It may convict you, dear reader, which in turn could help you to abandon your own detestable ways. In closing, use your damn turn signal, asshat!

Highly recommended. Five out of five stars. G 

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