Last week a friend of mine phoned to talk about a situation that had her really upset. She made a joking comment to someone (one of her ex-husband's family) in an email. This person took the teasing comment seriously and was so offended she actually sent back an email titled, Goodbye. In it she said she was insulted, offended... going, gone, outta here!
My friend was shocked. The comment really was a joke and the two of them have been lobbing jokes back and forth in lots of emails before this ones. Why did this joke offend? We talked about it and figure the joke must have hit a nerve, but since my friend never knew this "touchy nerve" existed how can she be responsible for the insult and anger it caused?
I went through something similar about three years ago. I lost a friend because I refused to apologise for my words. Were they good words, were they tactful or insenstitive? It depends on who you ask. I thought they were tactful enough, this friend disagreed. She ended our friendship. It stands out in my memory because it was the first time in my life I didn't apologise. I refused to say sorry for my words, because to have done that would have been a lie and made everything I said a lie. I did apologise for hurting her feelings, because I never intended that, but I simply couldn't bring myself to apologise for being myself. She had demanded I give her an honest opinion on something... I did as asked. How she took that was her responsibility, not mine.
It was the end of our friendship and that hurt, but it also felt remarkably freeing. For the first time in my life I had taken a stand and said "no, this is not mine to claim." I handed the responsibility of whether she chose to be offended, or not, back to her. How and why we say things may be our responsibility, but how others react to what they hear is not. That is their choice and their reponsibility.
What would happen to our conversations if we constantly censored out anything and everything that might hurt, harm, offend, annoy or influence others? We already know that we shouldn't make insulting racist remarks, sexist remarks, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. You could offend someone on gender, sexual preference, race, culture, Nationality, religion, spirituality, age, intelligence, weight, height, hair colour (blonde jokes), diet (I have a vegan friend offended by everything meat related), mental disability, physical disability, political views...
Anything left you can say at this stage and be certain you won't offend someone?
No, I'm not at all in favour of Political Correctness and yes, I have had others insult me with words and am aware of the damage that can do. Yes, they hurt or angered me, but it was still my choice to be hurt or be angry. MY choice. MY free will. Yes, when you are young and inexperienced jokes and insults can leave scars, but those are life lessons we can take and either grow from or use as an excuse to cripple our lives. We always have that choice. We all have that choice.
I remember, as a child, being taught to laugh off insults or taunts. I remember being taught to forgive the insulter, to "turn the other cheek." Nowadays if someone insults you... you sue them! What are we teaching our future generations? Is this really an improvement? By outlawing insults we don't stop people who hate from hating, we merely drive their throughts within, where no-one knows about them and can deal with them... until perhaps one day they grab a gun and shoot people.
I'd rather see a world where children were taught to cope with insults, to laughed them off as the ignorance they are, than a world where everyone lived in such fear of offending that they no longer knew what to say or how to say it.