It’s a sad state of affairs. American society is so futched-up it is nearly impossible to write much without worry over offending or upsetting someone. It’s been a while since I seriously interacted with anyone outside the US of A, so it’s necessary I limit my observation to the US. People being people though, that second sentence likely applies globally. It would be reassuring to believe this social paralysis is endemic only here, in the US, but that’s probably false hope.
“Offending or upsetting.” Two different animals. If I offend someone, they will feel some level of hurt or disappointment but chalk the error of my thinking up to a weakness in my mentality, a problem I should struggle to overcome.
If I upset someone, that will result in one of two attitudes in my audience. On the one hand, some will have difficulty accommodating my opinion, but timidly let it go or at least not assault me for it, justified assault or not. Offended people and upset people are alike in that they are disappointed in me. Those upset will take it personally. That’s tragic and part of what causes this “sad state of affairs.”
The second “upset” attitude is that harbored by a select group of people in larger part more responsible for this “sad state of affairs.” These are the people cruising-around looking for something to upset them, so they can reach into their backseat, grab a brick, and toss it through my window, or sadly, anyone’s window, especially a window showcasing new television sets or the latest trendy, overpriced *tennis shoes. Or today, a window displaying toilet paper, fresh fruits or vegetables, or puerile video games.
Offended people likely will be willing to discuss an issue. Not that there’s (in this state of affairs) any likelihood they’ll concede any point or hold their reserve and intelligence in the forefront long enough to convince me to see their side more clearly. The first group of “upset” people might do the same. The brick-throwers never will. Factually, brick-throwers will do all they can to avoid reasonable discussion.
As a matter of fact, a sadly predominant proportion of the brick-throwers could give a rat’s ass about the “issue” it seems we disagree on. Some brick-throwers won’t even understand the issue, armed only with what “intelligence” some other fool, usually a highly motivated and insidiously clever, but trendy, pop-culture fool or political axe-grinding genius has told them is gospel.
All that borderline rant aside, what really distresses me, what really strikes me sad, is that I must be careful as a writer to choose words and phrases, even at times combinations of otherwise innocuous words, carefully, so as not to “offend.” By no means picking on any group, but to illustrate, women people, black people, gender-uncommon people, indigenous people, left-handed people, and blonde people come to mind. A writer must not slur, or even appear to slur these people. Or to an extreme, to upset them. And it is so easily done. Today. Because we, they, let it be so.
What I write may strike ninety-five percent of my readers as yawnable. They might even take it as a left-handed(*2) compliment or agree. Words and phrases over the years have assumed legitimate and specific clear meanings. But today, in the present social climate, I cannot say “American Indian.” Nope. Cannot say, “Indigenous American.” Nope. Person indigenous to the land mass of the Northern Hemisphere bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by the Pacific Ocean threatens the lives of many electrons and I’m sure there’s a clown(*3) out there who’s gonna take offense at that.
Let us not belabor the point with gender, or ethnicity. Can I describe a female quick-disconnect hydraulic fitting? Is it upsetting to you that the last pair of wingtips I bought were black? Can I describe Uncle Warner’s fly-fishing skills without offending vegans? Can I order a fleece-lined jacket for this winter without sending PETA into apoplectic frenzy?
The point, friends, is that it’s fine to be convicted. Do not assume your (ACLU, RTL, NRA, or otherwise) convictions preclude my use of the English language because you are female, Italian, gay, any kind of “Indian,” red-headed, under five feet tall, talk with a lisp, or suffer ADHD, ADD, PTSD, herpes, post-nasal drip, or dictaphobia. I might otherwise insist you stop polishing your silverware because it denigrates my (*5)heritage. Enough.
If. If you see I am intentionally casting aspersions or deriding you or your cause, fine. Come at me tooth and nail. If I used the word “sex” instead of “gender” without specificity, find something legitimate to bitch(*6) about, something worthy of your time and sweat. Leave me alone. I am struggling with the English language.
As it is, I am afraid to sit down and simply write. I really don’t mind pi$$ing people off except that what I have to say in many cases I feel is more important than over-scrupulously editing so as not to offend Yukon sunbathers. I am gun shy. Spend so much time rethinking word choice I spend little time thinking about what I sat down to write in the first place.
My next writing project will be to take a happy-go-lucky short story to completion. Then I will edit to remove all traces of probably, possibly, imaginary, or ludicrously far-fetched maligning – social, political, ethnic, gender, economic, emotional, culinary, environmental, scientific, or otherwise misinterpretation. On the first pass, I’ll just drop words and phrases. See it there’s anything left. On the second pass, working from the original (the edited version will probably be meaningless) I’ll substitute “non-inflammatory” phrases. Should be an interesting exercise.
*I’m sorry, they are ‘tennis shoes.” Rubber and canvas. Don’t try to sell me on them being “athletic shoes.” Far and away, the people paying insane amounts of money for tennis shoes instead of financing a cure for cancer, are sofa-spuds. Highest level of energy use for them is lifting a lite beer to their lips. They don’t need athletic shoes. Calling a pig an opera diva doesn’t teach the pig to speak Italian or adroitly handle an aria.
(*2) Realize, I may have slurred southpaws. Well, shi7 – that’s a legitimate point. Then who’s to say that was not a compliment? But if you’re left-handed and sensitive about it, and already torqued because you had a run-in this morning with someone over your being unable to identify with male, female, or “I’d prefer not to say” on your medical insurance form, you’re gonna be pi$$ed. (I would caution: answer that question carefully, as in a medical situation, if the nurse really needs to know, one quick look… all I’m saying is…)
(*3) My abject apologies to circus(*4) people, relatives of Emmett Kelly, Sid Caesar, and Red Skelton. I meant the word solely as illustration of a proud and honorable profession.
(*4) Surely the point is starting to come through?
(*5) Yes, I am told I am Polish. A Polack. A Kielbasa. A Golumbki. I believe I should sue me. I might. Lemme check my insurance policy.
(*6) Neither a female dog (ASPCA) nor uncommonly surly female human (NOW) the word here meaning to kvetch, moan, bellyache, complain, etc.