It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”
[I saw hate in a graveyard — Stephen Fry, The Guardian, 5 June 2005]
I recall reading that Stephen Fry quote for the first time (quite recently, despite it’s age) and smiling. The man almost always makes me smile whenever I read or see one of his erudite quips. There’s a degree of envy on my part I think, about the particularly articulate nature of his intelligence and humour.
A short while after having read it, I felt compelled to quote it to someone who’d appeared offended by something, not that I recall what that offence was or who / what caused it. I stopped myself from running it up my personal flagpole on whatever social media platform I was reading at the time however, partly to persuade myself Mr Fry’s remark was accurate and relevant by checking the context in which it was originally made, and also for diplomacy’s sake (yes, I do have some…)
Having pulled back from the brink of using a Stephen Fry remark to justify my own thoughts on something, in a moment of profound introspection I paused to consider the nature of both causing offence and being offended. As someone known to have a short temper on occasion, being honest with myself I’d feel bad and a bit of a fraud if I had ridiculed someone else’s taking offence and then smugly used a Stephen Fry witticism to justify myself. After all, every person is an individual with differing outlooks on life. Differences of opinion are natural occurrences, and these can and do evolve into dispute with offence being caused. In order to avoid a rougher than necessary ride though life, surely the sensitivities of others need to at least be considered? Granted there are degrees of this. The need to use diplomacy on the international stage to avoid conflict is different than making sure Auntie Mavis is invited to your wedding so that Grandma isn’t offended. Let’s concentrate on the personal level however…no need to involve Kofi Annan just yet!
In my moment of introspection however, when considering if the Stephen Fry remark above was relevant, the pendulum of my thoughts started to swing the other way from diplomacy and respect for other people’s opinion. What if I firmly believed something I’d said or written was right or had merit? This blog has an “About” page, a relatively recent addition on which I make clear that (1) posts on here are mostly my own thoughts on the given topic, (2) nothing herein is ever intended as a personal attack on any one individual, and (3) unsavoury opinions from third parties (about individuals) may be referenced when relevant, but are not my own unless specifically stated. I’d felt compelled to add the “About” page when a post I’d written clearly caused offence. I rewrote the post concerned, as the offence caused was due in part to some of it having been poorly written. Despite the offence caused, the more I have thought about it the more I am persuaded that what I had to say* had some merit but simply could have been phrased better, thus the post remains as the concerns raised therein remain as well. Here then, we get to the crux of the matter; how does one balance expressing thoughts / concerns on an issue with respect for the opinions of others? Where does assertiveness become rudeness or arrogance? How far should diplomacy dilute one’s opinions?
* Using the medium of a blog to express ideas and write has also been a bone of contention, but that’s a personal choice made by me on grounds of how articulate I find myself with the written word and how cathartic an experience I find it to do so.
The short answer is, I don’t know…yet…but my thoughts on the matter are starting to coalesce around things like this;
In an interview with the Independent in April 2016 (read it HERE), Ricky Gervais said “Offence is the collateral damage of freedom of speech.” Being offended is a choice. Some may say reaction rather than choice, but it is a choice** nonetheless, albeit not necessarily a calmly considered one. Offence is taken, rather than given, unless one sets out to deliberately provoke. Simply turn on the news or go on social media and it’s almost guaranteed that one can find something to irritate and / or offend. Often when we are offended, the person who offended us did not even mean to! However, as Ricky Gervais also says in that Independent interview, “…just because you are offended doesn’t mean you’re right”.
One last reference to pearls of wisdom from others. My late father-in-law once said to me “Always stand up for yourself Simon, never be afraid to back your own point of view”. So…be assertive, and express yourself…sprinkle in some diplomacy along the way…but be prepared to cause offence!
**Choice, and how one defines that is a whole other topic for discussion!