When you offend someone
Something I wrote and this blog offended a friend of mine this past week. The words not only offended her, they hurt her.
I didn’t write Person X is fat and ugly and likes the Yankees. The comment wasn’t even central to the post I wrote. It was a throwaway line and I never considered it to be offensive or even especially controversial.
That fact is, I write about 300 posts a year for this august publication, which works out to about 120,000 words. And quite honestly, if my words don’t periodically annoy or offend people, then maybe I’m not doing the job as well as I should.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about confrontation offense in which I say all people who believe in X are knuckle-dragging morons who don’t have the good sense God gave the average sloth and it’s a wonder they can breathe. I’m talking about the plain, unvarnished presentation of thoughts and ideas in a direct way. If you think about what you believe in and you put some work into how you present it, eventually, you’re going to find someone who disagrees vehemently.
And, to be honest, that’s okay. My friend’s response to what I posted annoyed me. To be fair, work was in the process of being a Rolling Stones song that day, so maybe I was looking for a fight.
As writers, we can’t be responsible for our readers’ frame of mind when they consume our product. We can’t control what kind of day they’re having and we can’t control what things happened (or didn’t) happen in their lives that makes a specific point hurtful. And we can’t control the believe system that makes them feel offended by certain things.
What we can control are these things:
- The product we produced. In some cases, the offense may require us to pull back what we wrote, but in many cases, it’s more appropriate to stand pat.
- The way we respond to the offense. To be honest, my response wasn’t…professional. I essentially told someone who agreed with my friend on Facebook to go pound sand. Then, after a little while, realizing this is the Florida Writers Conference blog and not the Chris blog, I figured it wasn’t an appropriate response and deleted it. Having annoyed readers is part of writing. They may not need to get over it, but I do.
- What we produce in the future. Most people don’t typically seek out opportunities to offend people, and most will avoid offense at many costs. But if a writer does that, they’re screwed. It’s not appropriate to let other peoples’ tastes and beliefs dictate your writing.
Either way, this instance and any future instances are covered by what many call the non-apology apology. I’m sorry if you were offended. I didn’t mean to offend you. And I’m not going to change anything in the future.
In fairness, I think my friend knows this and wouldn’t ask me to change anything.