That’s Offensive!

offensiveI spend several hours a week watching speakers and discussing various topics with them. I was watching an interview online between two people who speak in order to share their main business ideas. One mentioned that after an interview on television had aired, she received an email from a follower who suggested she should have worn a different outfit as the one she wore was not professional. Obviously, this was just an opinion. After she went through all the mental hoops of fire as to whether she had just sunk her career, she realized that if her clothes were what this person had focused on, he was not really ready for the message.

The gentleman interviewing her laughed and said “they always complain about the clothes or your hair! They can’t complain about marketing strategy or your (he used a couple industry business jargon phrases that went right over me), they don’t even know what that means!” And she said, “if that is what he is paying attention to, he’s not my tribe. He is not there to hear my message.”

It occurs to me that people who draw the “I’m offended card” are doing the same thing. They are uncomfortable with the message, which they probably should be, because a good message is prodding them out of their comfort zone. But people who lack the mental skills or ability to be uncomfortable and look past it and move on it are going to create an excuse to not do so. And “I’m offended” is so readily available. In fact it has a built in, “and now YOU must do something different for me.”

But we don’t have to do something different. We can nod and recognize that that is this person’s personal mechanism and has nothing to do with us or the message. It has everything to do with them and their need to not listen anymore.

I’ve been to enough events and heard enough people (in the audience) create offense by just about everything: she shouldn’t be wearing such a low-cut blouse (and I hadn’t even noticed the blouse or the barely visible cleavage), he said Merry Christmas and I’m not Christian, he didn’t say Merry Christmas and he should have, he said breed instead of procreate, he used the word crap (or any number of the infinite lists of words that somebody out there has added at least one to), her pants are too tight, his pants are too loose.

These are people in a defense mode. They are seeking acceptance to not hear the message. If they are offended, chances are that somebody will agree with them and give them permission to tune the rest out. They may also get the messenger to acquiesce and change the message, even slightly, making them feel a bit catered to and perhaps that they might get some further hand-holding when it comes to actually taking action on the message. And if they do not get that hand-holding, they now point to that precedence of offense and soothing and create a little pocket for themselves. They don’t have to be uncomfortable because it has been expressed to them that they should never be uncomfortable.

One of my speaking points is this very topic. I was recently involved in a conversation with other speakers and the majority seemed to agree with each other that because the message is the most important thing, and taking care of the audience is intertwined with that, that a speaker should never offend an audience member.

You might guess that my opinion differed. It is my opinion that the audience must be held responsible for themselves. A speaker has a message to share, and hand-holding and coddling individuals who are seeking to shirk their responsibilities to take care of themselves, and demand someone else take care of them, wastes a speakers time, wastes the rest of the audience’s time, as well as setting that individual up for future failure. The sooner they are held responsible for themselves, the sooner they can take action for themselves. The sooner they can take action on the message itself.

There will always be something that someone could take offense to. Taking offense is a decision. It is an action.

A few days ago I was reading a status update from a man with thousands of followers. This update had more than a hundred comments within minutes of being posted. As I was reading through the comments, over breakfast, I noticed that many of the commenters were clearly trying to provoke argument and discomfort. They were trolling. That was not surprising. What I continue to be amazed at are the number of people who accept their role and take offense and then post about their offense. They have read through numerous comments that offered bait, and then they post how offensive those posts were.

While I think we can see, in this example of the extreme, that people clearly are seeking to take offense just as clearly as people are offering it, it is my contention that offense is always a choice and that we are not actually helping people by catering to their need. In fact, I contend we are actually setting them up for future harm as they become accustomed to a small bubble of a world where no one is uncomfortable or confronted with anything that forces them to question their world.

I cannot imagine any lesson of any value that does not force the learner even the briefest step outside their comfort zone. The earlier a person can be helped to see their personal responsibility to their mental and emotional fitness, the earlier they can begin a process of growth in any endeavor.

While I am not suggesting a speaker purposefully use words or gestures that are commonly accepted in that environment as offensive, unless it is actually the message you intend to share, I am suggesting that speakers (and writers) begin to recognize that a person’s offense is very rarely about the actual word or gesture and most often simply a quick wall to throw up between an individual and an action they fear. If anything, curtailing our message gives us a false representation of the action we hope an individual will take. If we can confront these issues in the room before they leave, they have a better chance of success.

I think it’s better we see the wall while we can help with it than send them on their way having said absolutely nothing that they could possibly take offense to, which is really just completely unrealistic, anyway. It is our job as speakers (and writers) to not only share a message but to help people take action. Help people to change their lives. Holding their hand in action is fine. Holding their hand to avoid action is not.

I know many of us have differing views on this. Please share your experiences and thoughts about this with other readers by commenting below. Of course I would appreciate it if you would share this article with your connections and groups and even on Facebook or Twitter, unless you hated it. I would understand not sharing it then.

I am a humorous and inspirational speaker and writer, but Storytelling is my love. I am an open-networker and invite your invitations to connect. Please feel free to join the conversation on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @Dachia .

Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic and

The above was originally published on LinkedIn.

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