On Writing, Op-Ed

I Wasn’t Offended; You Were Being a Jerk

11 Sep , 2018  

How Hard Is It to Be a Decent Human Being?

I used to argue against “political correctness,” but not because I saw it as an attempt to curb my freedom of expression. I thought that good manners and politeness already covered the matter adequately. We didn’t need a new buzzword. “Politically correct” was right up there with “paradigm shift” in my list of eye-rollingly unnecessary corporate-speak. It wasn’t novel or original; it was euphemistic, I thought. According to Wikipedia:

The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated to PC or P.C.) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive.

Well, I’m not quite old enough to remember, but I’m sure there were folks down south, in the mid-1800s, who thought the Emancipation Proclamation was excessive. And later, the notion of giving women the vote? Excessive.

The older I get, the more I think we haven’t been excessive enough when it comes to teaching people good manners and an appreciation for their fellow human beings.

I used to think ten commandments were excessive. We really only need two: Be good to each other, and don’t f*** up creation. A Catholic friend pointed out that the first encompassed the last, so we really only needed one.

The way people look for loopholes to every little thing, we’ve ended up with whole libraries full of laws explaining, elucidating, and expanding upon what should have been simple. That’s excessive.

I remember standing in line for the rollercoaster at Six Flags San Antonio, when my daughter was young. I stepped in a hot baked mess of bright red, half-evaporated, sugary soda and bubblegum. “Gross!” I yelped. I glanced over sheepishly at the guy next to me. “Don’t you just wish, sometimes, you could smack someone over the head with a hard-bound copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette?” He agreed, smiling sympathetically as I stood there, pawing the asphalt like a mad bull, trying to get the sticky gunk off my shoe. It made a weird little squunk-pop sound every time I pulled my foot up and plunked it down. At one point, I lifted my foot right out of the shoe. The poor loafer was stuck to the ground. I pried it off with my toes as I hopped forward.

The guy laughed. “I wonder how many people would even recognize that title, anymore.” He sidestepped the goo as the line moved.


The same folks who decry “political correctness” and clamor for the right to be rude and aggressively offensive are the same ones who whine whenever someone finds them…offensive. It’s almost as if they want to deny the killing power of their own words. Of course, they’re often the same people who would deny the killing power of a gun. Or think that it’s perfectly fine to curtail my freedom to yell “Fire!” (when there is none) in a crowded theater, or to lie outright when selling a car, but won’t back sensible controls on gun ownership. Same Constitution… different rules?

But I digress.

Apparently, It’s Hard

I don’t get offended easily, and rarely do I get offended by people whose rudeness is obviously accidental; careless, thoughtless, habitual bigotry doesn’t spring from a vacuum – it’s learned over a lifetime, from family and community, and it’s hard for me to imagine putting these people in the stocks and throwing rotten produce at their heads in the public square. The accidentally offensive usually take an arched eyebrow and a lack of laughter as their cue to behave better. A few of them even become aware, gradually, of what they sound like. There’s hope for them.

I know all the best blonde jokes, by the way. A few are even funny.

But when someone sets out to be offensive, on purpose, it’s just silly and disingenuous when they act offended for being called out as rude, bigoted, misogynistic, hateful jerks.  Hey, it’s their choice, right? Aren’t they supposed to smile and laugh and choose not to be offended? It’s almost as if they’re too embarrassed to admit that they meant to be hurtful, and not at all funny.

I looked for a Tweet to illustrate the point, found one, but it’s so nasty I don’t even want it on my blog. The original cartoonist appears not to have a Twitter account anymore, But you can see, someone’s jumped to their defense. “Nothing to do with race. Some people will stop at nothing to get offended.” OK, how about racist and misogynistic? Can I just comment with, “Dickhead”? (No, because that’s a microaggression against men, right?) OK, how about, “Puny little bundle of derivative mediocrity”?

Go ahead – click the link. (You’ve been warned.) Pile on if you like. I’ll wait. (Leave me a comment when this one vanishes from Twitter. I’ll find another to take its place.)

Gosh, my fellow liberal snowflakes – I think that one was meant to be offensive, don’t you? Probably the best thing we can do is to ignore the damned thing. Because you know they want to offend, just to get the attention they really crave.

[To put that earlier tweet into perspective, see this video.]

Paving the Road to Hell, One Intention at a Time

Intentions do matter – or should. I own the power of my words. If I mean to offend, I certainly will.

“When one woman strikes at the heart of another, she seldom misses, and the wound is invariably fatal.”

― Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons dangereuses

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

― Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “Cardinal Richelieu” (1839)

If I didn’t mean to, but can see how I did, accidentally, I’m quick to apologize. And I mean it, I am sorry if I said or wrote or did something hurtful. (If I angered or offended you, we can talk it out. I never mean to hurt anyone.)

When I truly think that someone’s being overly sensitive about something I said, twisting it out of context and applying meaning to words that don’t mean what they think they mean, I’ll shake my head and walk away. I won’t ever demand, or give, an insincere apology. I do sometimes think that “political correctness” goes too far, eroding support and leading to inaction on more important problems – just like the little boy who cried wolf. The BBC makes that point better than I could:


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13 Responses

  1. Esha M Dutta says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Holly. Political correctness has gone too far I think. Makes a farce of our reactions to every damn thing. I do agree that we need to pick our battles wisely and yes, we own the power of our words as well! That means we ought to be more responsible with what we say and do, isn’t it?A thought-provoking post like this one, is just the kind of thing that I wanted to read first thing this morning.

  2. Thank you.

    I think that we can’t start calling “up” “down,” and “down” “up” – while political correctness HAS made a farce of things, so has the backlash to it made asses of people. We really need to be nicer human beings – to criticize truly harmful and hurtful behavior (and refrain from doing it in the first place), but not to lose our compassion and our sense of humor in the process, either. Not to be afraid to speak out and share ideas, just because we are imperfect orators (this could be better accomplished if more listeners were inclined to listen for understanding, not to listen for an opportunity to POUNCE like tigers and devour the speaker for tiny rhetorical transgressions). The world moves at too fast a pace; it’s hard to be thoughtful and deliberative, and not all of us can write or speak quickly and insightfully at the drop of a pin.

  3. Damyanti says:

    I’ve never set out to intentionally offend, and I find the tendency to do so on the internet a little childish. It is like a brat hiding behind a wall and hurling abuse and other nasty stuff.

    Of course the hate and anger on twitter or FB is what exists in the real world, but somehow, I think the safety of being behind a keyboard frees up the worst in people.

    I ignore all of it, and thankfully I haven’t faced much hatred on my blog or my social media profiles. You’re one of the nicest and most generous people I know online, Holly, and if someone sets out to offend you, I’m not even going to dignify them with a mention.

    I Can be quite rottweiler if someone attacks my friends, so feel free to let me loose on any one who gets to you. 🙂

  4. You and I have always disagreed on the subject of political correctness, but I can’t recall if we disagree on people being ready to accept whatever the consequences are for not using politically correct speech in front of the “wrong people”. I find myself wanting to hit more people these days, although I don’t, but I remember egging people on hard enough so they’d take the first swing at me so I could hit them when I was younger. I really want to want to smack people most of the time; seems I haven’t quite grown out of that…

    As for the item you were going to share, I wasn’t surprised one bit by their response. Australians have always had a problem with recognizing their own prejudices when it comes to race. Just ask the Aborigines; it’s a very long history and still a reality today. It’s another reason I’ll never even consider going there, and that’s after I’ve met a few nice people… who also have the same problem recognizing their country’s racial prejudices.

    I have no problem with people getting called out and berated for their bad behavior. As you asked above, is it really that hard being a decent person? That’s all anyone asks of someone else; but it’s desperately lacking. So, there will always be battles, and there will always be consequences people aren’t ready to deal with; tough to be them.

    • I think we only disagree as to the degree of consequences and the circumstances. I recognize that people don’t just pop out of the womb ugly and hateful (for the most part). They’re a product of their upbringing, their family values, their church, their community, their education, and the sum total of their life experiences. There’s a difference between ignorant and mean-spirited, in my opinion. Sometimes – oh, OFTEN – the two co-exist in the same person. But I believe in at least trying to educate and encourage people, with compassion, to do better.

      That said, I have no patience for anyone who thinks it’s justifiable to deny anyone rights that they, themselves, consider to be RIGHTS and that they, themselves, enjoy. I don’t have a lot of patience for injustice, in the world. I don’t see why anyone should wait around and hope for justice in their children’s lifetime, accepting that they won’t see it in theirs. But that’s justice, fairness, and human rights. There are people in the world who just want all the good toys. I don’t have them, don’t want them, don’t care. That’s not about justice. It’s not “unfair” that I live in a nicer house than someone else. It may be unfair that I live in a nicer house when there are people who are homeless. At what point does “nicer” become “excessive”? I don’t know.

      I think the consequences of saying stupid things should be somewhat commensurate with their influence to influence or hurt others. Do we always need to BERATE or BELITTLE others? Not every idiot on the street needs to be filmed, doxxed, hounded at their place of business… people have bad days. People say stupid, hateful things. I remember, as kids, we regularly yelled, “I’m gonna KILL you!!” and not a one of us meant it or believed it. (Well, there was that one friend of mine who threatened to sic his dog on me. I forgot, briefly, that his dog was a big ol’ slobbery labrador who was MUCH nicer than he was and wouldn’t hurt a kitten. Then he said he was going to kill me with his BB gun. I think maybe my dad had a word with his dad, and that was that. I’m pretty sure he grew up to be an okay human being.) Not one of us was hauled off to therapy, jail, or the alternative learning center. Nowadays, a kid yelling, “I’m gonna kill you!” is in for a trip to the psychologist, if not the police station. And times have changed a lot, so maybe that’s the right course of action. We can’t afford to ignore it or brush it off as “kids will be kids.” Too many have acted on it. But I’d rather each case be judged on its own merits, in its own context. People say “Life’s not fair” and shrug their shoulders. I say, “Why the hell NOT?” It’s not as if we don’t have some control over that.

      As for that item I was going to share – I didn’t even realize it was from an Aussie. But what you said holds true of many people – they don’t recognize their OWN prejudices. (Makes me think of Avenue Q – but that’s “racism” in its “racial prejudice” sense, and goes back to our discussion about whether racism means “systemic racial discrimination” or “bigotry based on race” – either of which is bad.) Oh, they can see them in others, but as the Bible says, they can’t pry the log out of their own eye before obsessively picking splinters out of others’.

      • The problem is that rhetoric never stops with conversation; at some point it gets mean, physical and sometimes deadly. Once something’s said you can’t take it back, and if you get killed for it it’s easy for someone else to later say it was an overreaction but you’re still dead.

        I find that the older I get the more I want to hit someone. I don’t, but the urge is there. It’s a major reason why I’ve never carried a gun; I’d have been put away a long time ago. It’s also why I do follow the tenets of politically correct speech, following Dr. Phil’s recommendation of trying to teach people how to treat you by treating them better. In person it works great; online… not so much.

      • I hear you.

        I try not to engage with people I think are sociopaths. There’s hope for the angry and frustrated. We are angry and frustrated; the difference is that we have greater impulse control. I’m not sure anyone has PERFECT impulse control, but while I might punch a wall, I wouldn’t punch a person unless it were in self-defense. I can always make them the victim in a short story. There’s something cathartic about that, and it doesn’t get you arrested unless you name them and someone thinks you’re making an actual PLAN.

        Actual plans don’t involve demons or ghosts.

        Always make sure to write about the demons and ghosts.

        Seriously, though, you know that you’re better off not carrying a gun, and I trust you to be a good person – because that’s who you are. And if being a good person means you won’t carry a gun, then you won’t.

  5. The problem is politics on social media makes for weird rude and outright vitriolic comments.I think political correctness has a place because freedom of speech is not absolute anywhere in the world.
    You made me think a lot before I could comment!😊

    • Hi, Amrita! This whole post has been fermenting in my brain for a while – the convergence of ideas on the evolution of language itself and the notion that it is somehow the fault of the person offended, rather than the person being deliberately offensive, if words become “fighting words.” People are losing sight of the difference between “thoughtless” or “careless” and “deliberately rude or offensive.” And it’s an old bullying tactic, to provoke an angry response, then calmly lean back and say, “Wow, you’re awfully sensitive. Why you gotta be like that? Calm down.” Naturally, this only enrages their target further. Of course the best thing is to recognize bullying from the outset and walk away or ignore it, if possible. But it’s not always possible and it goes against every sense of fairness and justice we have. Bully’s know that; it amuses them to keep picking away at it till we turn the tables and BECOME the bully. It’s the bully’s FAULT. Yes, we need to name the thing for what it is and not psychoanalyze the situation to death. Sometimes, we need to say “Stop being a jerk.” I wish more people would think, before reacting (and I’m glad to see that people are reading and thinking about this post, too, not just reacting. Of course the title was meant to be provocative – to entice people to come read. But I’m glad they’re not just stopping at that.)

  6. Vitriol and negativity just not my thing. I run a mile away from all of that ad also people who spit venom.

    I guess social media has given people too much liberty and freedom of speech, and what a shame to see how they misuse it.

    • There have always been limits on “free speech.” The whole POINT of free speech was to let us criticize the government without fear of reprisal – without fear of being jailed, beaten, or silenced for good. I hate to even think of advocating more control over it; we have limits on “inciting” speech, commercial fraud, and libel. I don’t think the answer is necessarily to curtail the freedom of speech, but to do a better job of teaching people to use it responsibly so that good people don’t finally say, “Yes, we need to limit free speech further.” After all, that may be exactly their aim, just as terrorists have succeeded in unsettling people to the point where we have massive security screenings at every airport and massive distrust of people who don’t look and act just like US.

      I was telling someone on Twitter, yesterday, that I don’t believe social media makes monsters of us; it lets the monster within us out to play. It enables our inner monsters to find each other and encourage one another. If you’re not a nice person on Twitter, or Facebook, you’re just not a nice person. Period.

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