The hanging balance is responsibility for giving or taking offence, surely? Which way are the scales tipped?
How many of us have been offended by someone calling us offensive when we are quite clearly not? Today, you can say something on social media that someone will find offensive, when you are pretty sure you were not rude, judgmental, bigoted or prejudiced against any person, group or demographic. People seem to be able to find something to be upset about when no hurt or harm is thought or intended.
What if the offended party knew a reference was accidental and what was said had no derogatory meaning? The context could be quite different from another perspective. Can we be blamed for our ignorance about the perceptions of people we’ve never met, spoken to or maybe even knew existed?
A good example of unintended but accidental offensive speech could be pointed at language inaccuracy or lazy speech. For instance, using the word ‘Deaf’ for not listening and ‘blind’ for not looking. This is attributing wilful ignorance to a disability and is inaccurate, and yet the expressions ‘Fallen on deaf ears’ and ‘blind to (something)’ are used often, perhaps even by deaf and blind people themselves.
Social media interaction is often fast, with anything said jumped on before it has been properly understood, the emotion behind it considered or that the person is not an idiot or stupid for not communicating perfectly.
I think most of us can tell if someone is being rude. Often responses to imperfect communication are rude, which is intentionally offensive. Calling names, judging, criticising, assessing and assuming can all be unarguably offensive. How many of us have spent time reeling at a rude comment on social media, which we know to be inaccurate but cannot find the words or energy to respond.
Why don’t people use the term ‘rude’ instead of ‘offensive’? Offensive sounds more serious than rude and more intended to harm. Someone can be rude without being offensive, by just calling someone a name. In fact, you could say that bullying is rude, but we feel offended by it when they hit their target and get a reaction. Bullying is intended to be offensive, but we can choose to not take it personally and then the bully is just rude and ineffectual.
I do feel offended if I share an opinion and someone responds calling me offensive. To me, they seem like a victim, not taking responsibility for their own comprehension skills. Perhaps there is some valuable feedback in their response, but they could actually be less offensive in their reply. Patience is a virtue, not just with the person they are offended by, but for themselves too. Maybe they misunderstood something. Maybe they are hung up over some subject or have a persecution complex. Most likely, they did not consider the perspective, experience or lack of access to knowledge about something to update with added information before jumping to the defensive or, moreover, the fact that none of us communicate perfectly off the bat.
The word defensive is interesting as it is quite similar to offensive. It is like tennis. Someone who thinks something is offensive will respond defensively. It cannot be good for our psyche to get offended all the time and never wonder why we take all the slings and arrows without using a shield.
We ought to give each other the benefit of the doubt for a little longer, as we can sort out the wheat from the chaff and choose our battles a bit better if we at least respond reasonably to something we think is offensive to check if we understand correctly, have imagined anything, if something is miscommunicated or there is a piece of information missing that makes a difference all round.
That is being responsible. Not a victim. Then decent people don’t end up silenced or awkward when they want to communicate and we can all focus on the real bigots, prejudiced, ignorant, lazy, arrogant, bullies, rude and down right offensive people together.