Firstly, apologies for any offence caused by my spelling of ‘offence’. Some of you would probably prefer me to spell offence ‘offense’, but I spell offence ‘offence’. Maybe this explanation and (in)sincere apology is just making you feel more offended by ‘offence’? Perhaps I should stop mentioning it altogether now? Just call it the ‘O’ word?
It’s ridiculous isn’t it? No-one’s really going to get too upset about what’s written above. No-one holds a ‘sincere’ belief that there is only one true spelling of offence, and deviation from this spelling tramples their feelings and leaves them feeling oppressed.
But imagine if someone held this exact belief… what am I to do? Change the way I think it should be spelled in order to appease them? Does it matter if there’s only one person who thinks that way or a billion? What if they’re prepared to hurt me in order to protect their own feelings and those of their potential adherents?
Prompted by the conversation below, I’m going to attempt to lay out some ground rules regarding the phenomenon of offence.
As is evident from the exchange, I wasn’t really sure about my position. So I had a think and here is the output:
8 Rules of Offence
1. Offence is taken, not given
Most people know, through knowledge and an inbuilt empathetic nature, what others may find offensive. But maybe you’ve been in a situation where you’ve said something to provoke a reaction in someone and they don’t react. You say it again. You restate it. Still nothing. Did they not hear you? This is a good example of our human nature, and the assumption one knows what others think and how they will react. One can never be sure, but it’s the reaction that defines offence, not the action.
2. Everyone has the right to offend
We’ve recently seen this debate sparked by the Charlie Hedbo atrocity. Do you have the right to be offensive. Well, following rule 1, the answer can only be ‘Yes’. People aren’t clairvoyant (even clairvoyants), so unless you don’t ever want freedom of expression and open dialogue, one must be allowed to see what reaction is caused by your action whether one was trying to be offensive or not.
3. No-one has the right not to be offended
Unless someone lives the life of a hermit in a cave, they’re going to interact with other people. If they accept this interaction as a part of their life, then they have forfeited their right not to be offended (incidentally or purposefully). This is because a) people aren’t clairvoyant and b) some people aren’t very nice.
No-one has this right. Not the Queen, the Dalai Lama, the Pope, the House of Saud or any dead ‘prophet’. Or God.
4. You have the right to offend, yes. But don’t be a dick about it
Try not to be deliberately offensive. If this is the sole reason for your exchange with someone, it just makes you a bit of a dick.
If the offence taken is a byproduct of humour (satire), serious critique or an honest intent to share your views then that’s beyond anyone’s control and is fine (if sometimes regrettable).
5. People have the right to offend, but not the right to force you to listen
‘I just read it to see if I would be offended…..’. I mean, why put yourself through it? If you know you’ll be offended by something, rather than complain about free expression and question the rules above, just ignore it. Rise above it. Hit the block button, etc.
6. There is no protection in numbers from the right not to be offended
One person. One billion. The whole of humanity (less one). It doesn’t matter. The minority’s right to express (something everyone might find offensive) wins every time. And don’t even think about perverting democracy by using your majority to restrict minority rights to protect your feelings…….
7. So you’ve taken offence. Can you use violence in your reaction?
No, you can’t. However despicable the thing said, you never have the right to physically attack the person who caused your offence. The law will rightly protect them. Of course, there might be a mitigation in your defence if the person on the Clapham Omnibus would have taken gross offence, and no-one can guarantee their actions, but really try not to be, or condone, a violent reaction of the offended. The Pope is an arse.
You can apologise if you like. You can accept an apology if you like. It’s a minefield!
So there you have it. The rules of offence*. Follow these rules and a better, more peaceful world might follow.
* – Apologies for any offence I might have caused in writing down my thoughts.
The ever vigilant @bobfrombrockley (follow this man!) posed the following challenge:
I accept there are some times when the ability not to listen is restricted. In these situations, you could consider that the message isn’t directed at you but is just in your environment. It’s not targeted. People should then accept free expression (note rule 4) and ignore and /or rise above it. A little thick skin goes a long way….