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Have you ever unintentionally offended somebody?

I’m not sure of what you would call this. It happens on a train or a bus when you strike up a conversation with someone and it almost feels inappropriate to NOT request some way of keeping in touch when you’re  saying goodbye. Does anyone get that? Yeah, that happens to me often.

Sometimes I ask for directions only to find out that person is going the same way so we stick together and learn as much as possible about each other in the 20 minutes it takes us to get to our destination. Sometimes I accidentally say what I’m thinking out loud and then I hear someone laugh and say “I know, right?” when I blurt out “Who farted?” and then suddenly we’re friends. Sometimes I actually say what I’m thinking.

Other times I just offend them and they leave me alone.

See, I used to hang out with little kids all the time when I volunteered at a kindergarten classroom and in the pediatrics department at a hospital, and my now 6-year old cousin pretty much grew up around me, and I’ve noticed that they like to ask questions. I find it strange how they’re automatically taught what is appropriate and what isn’t, despite their innocence. They’ve asked me questions about salaries, about why black people are black and brown but are not called brown even if their skin may be that color, they’ve asked what that red bump with a white tip is doing on my nose, and if I love the teacher (with the teacher right there standing by us). They don’t think it’s awkward, or weird, or inappropriate: they’re just curious. In a way, I’ve picked up on that. When I sense that someone is not willing to be open with themselves and give themselves permission to think outside of what is expected, I close up too. Of course they also teach children to be respectful of others and their feelings.. they just don’t expect others to be so freakin’ touchy.

There is a blog about a polyglot traveler who thinks that Americans are always trying to be nice. When they ask you how you’re doing, you say fine and smile. When someone doesn’t smile, we think they’re mean and wonder what is up one of their cavities. Of course we lead in gun violence, we tell people to shut up when they ask us .. uh..  we don’t know what they ask us because we don’t care, and we make fun of and bully our own presidents.

Do I offend people? Yes! I held a door open for someone and got a lecture on equality. I referred to someone as the Asian teacher with long hair and got a mean look. What the heck?

I was telling a story to a classmate while we were on the train, and she told me to change my wording. Oh, I should explain. I said:

“So then this black guy comes up and offers to help out–”

“Shh! Dude be quiet. Why would you say that?”

“Say what? ‘Black guy?'”

“Shh! Wow, oh my god. Can’t you just say ‘then this GUY comes up?’ Why’d you have to say ‘black’?”

“He was black!”

“Stop it!”

Sheesh.

I can’t say “black”, but a standardized test and job application can? The choices for race (which is human, thank you for asking), are Black, White, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, Other. When I don’t know if a person is male or female, it’s rude for me to ask them, but a questionnaire can ask with options like “Male, Female, I Don’t Know, Other, Decline to State”? I’m all for respect and protecting another’s privacy but is calling an athletic person “athletic” really that bad? I’m describing them, people. We’re all unique and some choose to believe that uniqueness is bad so they try to make us avoid terms that would single people out? That makes no sense to me. I once asked a girl if she had, in my exact words, “Boyfriend or girlfriend or some significant other?” and she went ballistic. Boom! Explosion! Bam! Death! Destruction!

I clearly remember this scene in the show The Office:

Is there something besides “Mexican” that you prefer? Something less offensive?

Michael Scott asks Oscar if there was something other than “Mexican” that he preferred to be called.

“It’s not offensive,” he said, “I am Mexican.”

Trying to be politically correct about everything is exhausting, but we always have to be mindful of others.

Then we have super touchy topics.

Its tough to know beforehand if our statement will offend or not. People have certain upbringings that make them more sensitive to some things. A person who grew up poor may have a completely different view on food stamps than a person who was born with plenty of food on the table, so your solution of “maybe you should just get a job” may earn you a punch in the face. We can’t ask someone if her boobs are real. We can’t comment on someone’s body odor.

I’ve asked a transgender person what they prefer to be called, and she answered very politely and seemed grateful I asked. Everyone around me was just quiet the whole time, fearing I would offend her and make it awkward. See? She was cool. Touchy people need to go home. Hahaha.

The truth is, I’m probably always going to offend somebody even if I do our absolute best to follow those awkward politically correct rules. From past experience I know that sometimes you can’t call a gay man “gay” if you say it in a certain tone, some African Americans prefer black, and others prefer American, some women want to be treated like princesses and others want to be treated like men (what ever that means).

I just have to remember to be nice, I guess. And to avoid touchy people.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever unintentionally offended someone?

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2 Comments
  1. You know what? I’m with you on this one. I mean, its just crazy how touchy everybody is about the most silly things!

    October 30, 2013
  2. I get in these situations all the time….
    Sometimes trying to be polite is also offensive?
    It really makes me think about how much I don’t get things…. which apparently is a lot. I just try not to say anything Michael Scott would say… I don’t think I could get away with it 🙂

    October 30, 2013

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