15 July 2007

Archives 28 September 2002 – OFFENSENSITIVITY

Another faux-diary entry from from my website "news" page. Note that the title (above) comes from a Bloom County cartoon I read when I was a kid, but the word seems to have entered the language now...

Since the 11-9 tragedy (sorry, I'm Australian, and it makes more sense to call it 11-9-01 (as in day-month-year; 9-11-01 is totally out of sequence) - sorry, where was I? Oh yes, since the 11-9 tragedy, much has been said about what writers should write, and how they should avoid offending people. The truth is: it's very difficult not to offend people. I've been offending people for years - and I don't say that as a boast. I know a lot of people consider it very cool to cause offense. I don't. I just think it comes with the job.

People don't want to be confronted, so they get offended by comments. My first (published) complaint letter, for anything I wrote, followed some mild criticism of then 20-year-old pop/TV superstar Kylie Minogue. (At the time, I was a teenager myself - with attitude. But even then, I didn't really want to cause offence.) As you might guess, Kylie herself didn't complain. She had better things to do. It was just one of her fans, who was probably some years younger than either of us. The way he saw it, I should "look at myself before criticising others." Sage advice, probably from his mother, but I thought (and still think) it was irrelevant.

Taking offense, of course, is often a substitute for actually sitting back and considering an issue. Other times, I'm not sure what it is, but people seem to enjoy it. One of my former editors - a fellow playwright - once took offense because I jokingly said something to him at a playwrights' workshop - and what's more, I didn't apologise (because, let me be honest, I didn't know it was necessary). He didn't take it as intended - an innocent display of our cameraderie - though, according to everyone I asked, this was clearly my intention. Nobody took it badly, except him. Now, he is not merely offended, but he won't take any apologies ("too late"), and has decided that nothing can ever heal this rift.

A shame? Well, maybe. I'm afraid I can't go through life apologising to people. (With this fellow, I'd already tried a few times. He simply isn't interested.) We all need to grow up. I don't set out to offend, but if I happen to do so, usually I won't feel the need to apologise. Sometimes I will, of course. But sometimes people just have to stop taking offence. If someone thinks I've said something offensive to/about them, I could probably think of something ten times as "offensive" that someone has said to/about me. I don't often demand an apology. (An explanation, occasionally. Not an apology.)

In the meantime, as my editor/playwright friend has chosen to be sensitive and easily offended, I just hope he doesn't take an overdose after reading his first bad review...


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