So You've Offended Someone: A Guide To Taking It Well

There is a consequence for saying whatever you feel when it hurts others. You will become a loser.

By Alida Nugent

Are we truly living in a new era where everybody gets easily offended, or are we just trying to become better, inclusive people? It’s easier for some to say the former. There’s many people out there who can’t believe that the world is changing in a way where they get called out for their awful jokes. It's mindblowing for them. It’s easier to get defensive than admit your entire party comedy routine is awful, and that you can’t do the following: make stupid race jokes about which race is the best dancer, make stupid jokes about how women are better at making sandwiches even though making a sandwich is an astoundingly simple life skill, or poke fun at, say, a teenaged pop star's body. I know! Life must really stink for you now! It’s easier to say that you didn’t mean exactly what you said, or that everybody is missing the point, or that you’re the victim to society’s newfangled insistence on not making fun of people for sport. It’s easier to blame the world for people not laughing at your jokes, then to hear why.

I get why somebody wouldn’t want to admit they are wrong. Most of the time, people just spit stuff out of their mouth without realizing they’re hurting somebody’s feelings, which often isn't the intention. It’s also embarrassing to learn you’re part of the problem. But it’s not nearly as embarrassing as looking ignorant, or refusing to learn why the things you say are hurtful. Putting your ego aside and admitting you made a mistake doesn’t make you look bad. It actually makes you look better. It makes you look like the kind of person who is willing to change in a world that is changing. You don’t want to be the old man at weddings nobody wants to talk to because he still uses 1950’s jargon for everything and doesn’t like that women can vote. You don’t want to be the young dude at a party who makes a chloroform joke because he is a trash can filled with rotting beer. You want to be the person who is imperfect, but can learn and admit from their mistakes. I don’t love admitting mine, but I have many: I once thought women were my competition, and I tried to bring them down to make myself look better. I used to wear flare jeans. I had bangs for a pretty long time. We’re all not perfect. We can grow and flourish in new environments, like houseplants I will probably forget to water. So if you made a dumb joke and people are calling you out on it, here’s a guide to taking it well:

1. . Listen To People

Listening is a good thing that people, in my opinion, don’t do enough. People enjoy talking more than listening, because they like the sound of their voice bulldozing over people about how right they are. But maybe, if somebody is upset with something you said, you should listen to why. If it’s a dumb reason, like “I love flare jeans! You have pants prejudice!” maybe you can write the whole thing off. But usually, more than one person aren’t going to get at you if it’s a non-issue. Usually, there’s a reason for why people are upset. And maybe you should listen to them! You can, at the very least, learn something new.

2. . Apologize

If Justin Bieber can apologize, so can you. “I’m Sorry” can go a long way for people. It’s one of those phrases that is criminally underused and overused: it’s overused by people like me who apologize when somebody else bumps into them, and it’s underused in real situations that call for it. If you have assessed the situation and have determined you’ve said something out of line, try vomiting out an ‘I’m sorry.’ Not a “I’m sorry, but” that follows with a long explanation of how you’re actually pretty poor and therefore have experienced hardship, or an “I’m sorry, but you’re very sensitive.” Just two words. Be sincere. Be succinct.

3. . Don't Defend Yourself, Change

You are allowed to say anything you want. As long as the Constitution exists, you will get to say many of the awful things that come into your head. Nobody is trying to stop you from your open mikes, or your lame jokes at birthday parties, or your great exclamations of how you hate political correctness. You will always be able to say those things, but I can’t help you if people stop liking you for it. People will stop liking you, and they won’t want to hang out with you, and they won’t think you’re funny or cool anymore. There is a consequence for saying whatever you feel when it hurts others. You will become a loser. 

Not everything people get offended about means you are wrong. As someone who writes on the Internet for a living, there are plenty of things I’ve said that have made people mad or offended, and I know when to ignore it. Does it affect a marginalized group? Is it hurtful to a group of people who don’t have the upper-hand? Does it make you sound like a complete asshole? You know the difference. You know the things you can say that are wrong. You can either learn from them, or face the consequences. Be a better person, dude. It’s completely possible.





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