Sunday, 30 March 2008

No offence meant

How easy it is to unwittingly cause offence. It doesn't take much to say or do the wrong thing and get right up someone's nostrils.

It's odd though - despite knowing from my own experience how easily people can be offended, my personal quirks still lead me into unexpected foot-in-mouth situations.

Oh yes, I learnt about being offended very early on. My father was given to torrents of abuse in which he accused me of everything from idleness and stupidity to wasting his hard-earned money. At school I was bullied and teased by the other boys for being too different and too independent. Because of that I'm very aware that people have private sensitivities and traumas that can be quickly aroused.

But it doesn't stop me upsetting someone without meaning to. Firstly because face-to-face I'm not articulate enough and can easily put things in a way that gets misinterpreted. Secondly because my typical male upbringing means I'm not as emotionally literate as I should be, and I miss subtle signals and messages.

Someone tells me I've implied they're insincere and cynical. Or that they're naive and gullible. And I think, goodness that's not what I meant, how did they get that impression?

But at least I set out not to cause offence, unlike some who seem to take a delight in causing as much offence as possible. They believe self-expression is sacrosanct and if someone is offended by what they've said, that's too bad. People shouldn't be so thin-skinned and over-sensitive.

And if someone does complain of being offended, instead of apologising they take it as a green light to offend them some more and get them really steamed-up*.

One can only wonder at the elements in their own upbringing that have inspired such casual disregard for other people's feelings.

* Journalists of course being the prime example, witness the endless moralising diatribes against 'misbehaving' celebs and politicians.

19 comments:

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I have referred to my brother as an emotional illiterate for years, but have never heard anyone else express the concept.

I think that none of us is as precise in person as we would like to be, and people hear us through their own filters. What is remarkable, therefore, is that we are ever able to converse without offending someone.

Nick said...

Heart, that's very true, it's amazing how often we DON'T cause offence considering all the pitfalls. And yes, I'm sure I have a few distorting filters that get me worked up over nothing!

Grannymar said...

Nick if we were all worrying about offending people, we might never say anything!

Nick said...

Grannymar - Well I guess there's a balance to be struck between worrying too much and being afraid to open your mouth and worrying too little and everyone loathing your guts!

laurie said...

i didn't understand your journalists reference. can you explain?

Nick said...

Laurie - I was referring to the way journos often have it in for people and just keep on putting the boot in relentlessly. For example: Heather Mills, Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty. Plus any number of British politicians who've done slightly disreputable things like having a mistress or taking cocaine. No sympathy, just sanctimonious moralising. But isn't the US media much the same? (And I'm sure you're an honourable exception btw!)

Thriftcriminal said...

Hmmm, I realise this is offensive, but me aul granny always used to say "the stupidest people are most easily offended". Now, I'm not sure I entirely agree with this statement, but there is, I believe, a particular type of person who makes a career out of beeing offended. Personally if confronted with somthing that could be interpreted as an insult or something else, I give the benefit of the doubt. Mostly because it makes my own passage through this life much more pleasant than to assume everything is an insult of some form. Oh, and me granny was a wise old bird.

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting post, Nick. Writing is so much easier than articulating for me too. I've had to work hard at not offending people, not blurting something out without evaluating what I'm saying.
I often fall into silence as a result and sometimes that is viewed as patronizing. *sigh*.

I tend to run off at the mouth then when started on a favourite topic. I've had to slow down and allow other people's opinions the same type of respect that I would like for mine.

Difficult when gifted with knowing everything. :>)
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Thrifty - I think you're right that some people make a habit out of being offended. Personally like you I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Or I assume the offensive remark was unintended and just a result of some personal upset.

www - Yes it's easy to blurt out something hurtful without thinking. And I tend to go silent too if I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing. One thing I'll never be is a chatterbox which reduces the blurt-out factor.

Baino said...

I dont attempt to deliberatey offend but I will call a spade a spade and I'm not afraid of challenging people with whom I disagree or confronting someone who is being offensive. In fact I'm a little too articulate face to face and a little too straightforward for my own good sometimes but at least, what you see is what you get. I hate treading on eggshells around people. One of my oft used sayings is 'don't be so precious!' or 'get over it!'

Nick said...

Good for you, Baino, being so assertive. I challenge someone if I'm feeling truly annoyed but too often I just shrug my shoulders and say Does it really matter? But I certainly don't tread on eggshells, I couldn't be that cringing.

Los Angelista said...

An old boss of mine used to get offended any time we asked a question that even implied we disagreed with her. I'd say she was insecure and thus, thin-skinned. Most people can take a differing opinion with a grain of salt. However, what passes as differing opinion these days is merely veiled (or not so veiled) personal attack. I think I get your journalism reference. So much of modern journalism isn't based on a pursuit of truth or justice. It's just a chance to sharpen journalistic claws on whichever victim seems juiciest in a news cycle.

Nick said...

Liz - I think with bosses it's not just being thin-skinned but panicking at the idea of being challenged by employees and not being able to handle it. And you're right about much differing opinion being a veiled attack. Not even veiled with a lot of journalists - like the all-out vendetta against the McCanns.

Matt said...

You seem to have come a long way if that was the example your father set for you. Schools, for all their inadequacies, often excel at alienation; sorry to hear that. As for getting along without getting upset, some people are better than others. Tensions, conflicting needs, foibles, insecurities, communication errors, ug. People need to make an effort to get along, to think of the needs of others at least as much as their own, to quiet down rather than escalate, and to seek first to understand. Sometimes that goes against one's natural inclination, but it tends to bring about better results.

Nick said...

Matt, I resolved at a tender age never ever to be as ill-tempered as my father. And that's some good advice about getting along with others without problems. I think seeking to understand is pretty basic - if you can get some idea of what makes the other person tick and what their needs and insecurities are, that's halfway to a positive relationship.

Medbh said...

It's somewhat more difficult for me to always gauge a tone online because I don't have verbal or body language clues to go by.
Sometimes that may be a bonus.

Nick said...

Very true, Medbh, it's easy to be caught out without the personal indicators. I have to be careful I've got the right message from a comment. On the other hand you can avoid all those negative facial expressions like accusing glares, knowing smirks and drooping eyelids!!

K8 the Gr8 said...

I do that too. I might say the right thing but betray the statement with a mis-read facial expression. I dig myself into holes all the time, but I agree with Thrifty, there are those that seem to 'want' to be offended on some level, like they enjoy the challenge, or just like to argue!

Don't dwell on regret though... it's done and you've learned from it so why worry?

Nick said...

K8 - I know what you mean, unintended facial expressions like disgust can contradict the fine words being spoken! And I think I've never really grasped that a lot of people secretly enjoy being offended and moaning about it.