taking offence

I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between the jokes you can tell your friends but you can’t tell to an audience. There’s a fine line you have to tread because you don’t know who is out there in the auditorium. A lot of people are too easily offended.

— Billy Connolly

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


There are too many ‘fine lines’ in our world.

I am sick of having to dance around the sensitivity of people; that’s why I like writing this blog — it’s my blog, I can write what I like, nobody is being forced to read it right to the end. If you don’t agree with something I have said, you don’t need to keep reading — or you could post a comment.

Over the last few months I have been given some fantastic feedback and have realised that more people read my stuff than I originally thought. That feels really good! But what feels better is actually just writing down my thoughts without worrying I am going to offend someone. (Actually, if I am honest, sometimes I do have a niggling concern that what I am writing is going to rub someone the wrong way, but I tend to get over it pretty quickly.)

Billy Connolly is right — people are too easily offended. In fact, I would go as far as to say some people get off on being offended. It’s what they do — like professional protestors, only they are prolific offendees.

I am not talking about overtly, over-the-top offensive material: racism, sexism, anti-gay, religious slurs etc. There is a lot of highly offensive behaviours and attitudes out there which need to be stopped; jokes and so-called humour often masquerade as lack of tolerance and blind ignorance. I am also not referring to the one-on-one offensive behaviour or derogatory remarks; these are in a category of their own.

However, there are multiple instances where people become offended over what seems to the rest of us to be minor things.

There is no rule book on ‘taking offence’; no guidelines regarding what is offensive and what isn’t. If you don’t intimately know each and every member of your audience, you have no way of knowing what will offend them and what won’t. This is why it is so hard to judge, and why comedians like Billy Connolly run the risk of offending people on a daily basis. All of us do, actually.

The problem is, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly what is going to offend.

Sometimes, it is easy — swearing offends a lot of people. Nudity (or low-cut clothing) frequently offends. Stereotypes can offend. Sexual behaviour is also a common one. The common factor in all of these cases is that the ‘offended person’ does not have to listen, watch or partake in the activity in any way.

But, some people can’t just walk away, they need to make it known that they were offended. What I would like to know is why they were there in the first place, allowing themselves to become offended? Some of these people are little more than troublemakers, ruining entertainment or plain old leisure time for the rest of us.

I have heard it said that if you say something that offends another, then what you have said is offensive, whether or not you meant it to be.

I agree with that to an extent. It goes back to not knowing every single person in your audience and just needing to be mindful of what we say and how we say it.

At the same time, if we spent our lives trying not to offend anyone, the world would be a silent place.

However, surely the onus is on both parties … be aware of what you are saying on the one hand, and don’t overreact on the other. It’s a balance or, dare a say it, a fine line.

I rather like what my father was fond of saying every time someone in our family became a bit huffy over something small:

‘Don’t take a fence (offence), just take a paling.’

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Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2 thoughts on “taking offence

  1. Love the quote about the fence. Very clever!!!!
    I think Harmony Day is an apt choice for focussing on ‘offence’. I justify this because of the multitude of racist jokes and torments that are bandied about freely without real thought re the damage they do. To be on the receiving end of offensive racist comments is extremely humiliating and has brought out deep anger in me, particularly in the past when I was first exposed to such vilification. I refer to taunts my South American born husband endured when he first came to Australia. When we went to ‘Aussie’ parties, the jokes flew across a crowded room, thick and fast, often over my husband’s head as his knowledge of English was very poor. People took advantage of this factor, especially in the factory workplace. ‘Pass me that, will ya?’ ‘Get me that, will ya?’ When having a conversation with his South American mother, who incidentally was the daughter of Italian migrants in Chile, my husband seriously informed her that he now had a new name in Australia – ‘Willya’. Sounds amusing, but it made me angry in that my husband was being made fun of because of his limited English. I must admit that being close to people who have recently come from another country really makes me extremely defensive about offensive comments.

    In our global society, it is becoming more and more easy to take offence at remarks made swearing, body appearance, religion etc. However, it is my belief that Education helps make us aware of ‘the big picture’ and guides us in the direction for us to react to ‘offensive’ behaviour. Except when people make racially offensive comments, I tend to remain quiet or just walk away without making verbal retaliation. It’s not easy to stay on the fence. It’s not easy to keep a balance. It’s not easy to embrace harmony in a multicultural society. ‘Harmony’ I find, is a powerful word on which to lean, when faced with ‘Offence’.

    ‘One of the best lessons you can learn in life is to master how to remain calm’.



  2. I agree totally … I hate racist jokes, or any jokes – however minor – bandied about at someone else’s expense when they can’t ‘joke back’. What really boils though are the people who make fun of disability – sadly I know of at least one teacher who does this. Said teacher is lucky I have some self-control … I don’t think I have mastered how to remain calm fully but so far, so good …


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