Thursday, October 1, 2009

No Offense Intended--Or Taken

There are some things I just don't get, like why some people seem to just sit around waiting to take offense. I doubt there's a person alive who hasn't said the wrong thing at some time. Sometimes a person says the right thing, but it is interpreted wrong. And sometimes someone says something that needs to be said, tries to say it in a helpful way, but offense is taken anyway.

I don't mean to get into politics, but why is Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi receiving snide racist accusations for referring to President Obama as "young, handsome, and even has a good tan?' Aren't we supposed to notice that Mr. Obama and his wife have dark skin? Being aware that someone is of a different race or even commenting on it doesn't constitute racism. It's the adjectives that are tacked onto comments about color that define whether or not the speaker is racisit, not the mere observance of color. Actually there are few occasions when mentioning a person's race adds anything to the conversation, but in describing a hit-and-run driver it might be a good idea to mention to the investigating officer a significant descriptive detail concerning the absent driver such as color.

While reading LDS Publisher earlier this week I noticed an answer to an inquiry concerning a couple of new, very small publishers. LDS Publisher spelled out in polite, but realistic terms, the pros and cons of publishing with a new small publisher, especially in a small market such as the LDS fiction market. One reader commented on her own reasons for going with one of the mentioned publishers and took offense at LDS Publishers's remarks. In the process, she misspelled "irk" as "urk" and an anonymous reader gently teased her for the misspelling. A third reader jumped in to berate anonymous, interpreting his/her teasing as insulting criticism. Have we really reached the point in our society that we take offense so quickly where none is intended?

Sometimes this obsessive taking offense would be funny if it didn't damage reputations. A few years ago a politician referred to those opposing a bill he favored as "niggardly." Niggard is a perfectly fine word meaning excessively miserly or selfish. It has nothing to do with race, but the poor politician was practically run out of town by those who assumed otherwise without consulting their dictionaries.

Even in the temple there are some who take offense if they are reminded that they should wear white, not gray or tan stockings.

Some people are offended when wished Merry Christmas and others are offended by those who leave out Christ and simply say, Happy Holidays. Our society is filled with representatives of many religions and ethnic groups. The mature attitude it seems to me is to simply appreciate the sharing of good will that comes with the expression of anyone's cultural or religious good wishes. I feel pleased rather than offended when someone different from me feels warmly enough toward me to want to express words or blessings they value to me.

I'm not a mean, spiteful person and I really don't wish anyone harm, not even politicians with whom I vehemently disagree. However, as a critic for a well-known and popular magazine, I have offended some writers, never intentionally, but it has happened. Probably every blog reviewer has done the same, unless they only review friends' books and their reviews are more sales pitches than reviews. I believe in LDS fiction; I like to write it and I like to read it, and I want to see LDS writers succeed. So many times as I read a novel, I find myself thinking, this is really good; how can I suggest ways it can be better? Of course there are also books I don't enjoy so much, but I've never written a review where I just wanted to say, you can't write; why don't you just give it up? I don't want to offend; I want to help others improve. If I have offended, let me know and I'll apologize or try to explain my criticism better.

There are people who seem to take delight in offending as many people as possible and especially those who don't share their views. Just read any comment queue attached to any online news story. And there are those who are constantly looking for the slightest matter at which to take offense. Let's not be among them. Let's overlook the minor offenses and save our indignation for the big things. There are plenty of those.


Anna Buttimore said...

Hurrah, and Hear Hear! I had the bizarrest worry when writing this year's roadshow for our ward. I cast our (white) Bishop as Elvis, and our (black) first counsellor as Bob Marley, and found myself worried that someone would be offended. But it's impossible to deny that Brother Mandiveyi looks much more like Bob Marley than the Bishop does, and the Bishop looks much more like Elvis than Brother Mandiveyi does.

Thanks for saying what needed to be said, Jennie. Sometimes we do not intend to give offence, and yet there are people who can take it.

TRIBE'S said...

I just choose not to be offended. I don't think most people mean to offend another. Perhaps they have had a bad day so when they say something it comes out wrong. You just have to let that go. I try not to offend others, but that being said, I'm sure I have. We all just need to lighten up a little and love unconditionally.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Jennie, you have eloquently stated an important truth. Too much time is wasted when offense is taken over silly things, and even things that aren't so silly.

Susan Corpany said...

One of the things I appreciate about your reviews is that they are fair-minded and that you point out both strengths and weaknesses. Like us, our books aren't going to be perfect, and I know that as a writer, I learn more from having someone point out things I can improve rather than heap praise on me for things I already know I do well.

And for the record, although it may also have been a politician, it was Charlton Heston who was famously taken to task for using the word "niggardly." They made him apologize publicly.

And it is "irk" not "urk."

Great column, something we all need to be reminded of.