It’s so convenient to say, ‘no offence’ and then proceed to say something offensive to the person in front of you. It’s a commonly used disclaimer in today’s conversations. I love the concept I hate the application. Lately, I have kept my opinions to myself. Today, ‘no offence’ doesn’t work as an excuse, people are always waiting to be offended, they dare you to do it and they want to see how long you’re going to take to offend them.
I used to use, ‘no offence’ when I wasn’t sure how the other person would react to what I say. Sometimes I’d use it just to say something I wanted to say because I was angry or upset. But now it doesn’t work as a shield any more. That’s the issue with a conversation today, there’s so much room to mess up. One wrong emoji or capitalisation is enough to ruin a conversation. One autocorrected text can lead to endless torment. It’s that simple.
With the plethora of identities that need to exist together on this planet, it’s hard to navigate conversation without saying something that might be contextually or factually wrong. While we can blame our education, we also need to acknowledge that we made a conscious choice to ignore and exclude. The way out of an awkward or rude moment in a conversation is not by saying, ‘no offence’. It’s tough.
I think the trick is to keep your stereotypes to yourself. We make assumptions based on observations but it’s best to not to voice those assumptions unless you know that the other person also knows you don’t mean any harm by it. I know I’m placing a greater share of the responsibility on the offender, but even the person getting offended should be equally understanding that people can say something by accident.
I hate being the offender, my first move is to flee, I just want to run away and never make eye contact with that person again if I have offended them. I know it’s not healthy but I hate facing it and making things ok. Confrontation is only easy when you are not the one in the wrong. On the other hand, I go into every conversation suspicious of the other person and expecting them to say something about me that I could take offence to.
‘No offence’ comes up when you want to confirm your doubt or point out a flaw. It’s the numerous typifications of identity, the numerous conflicting opinions and clashing personalities that making offending such an easy task. Our identities creep into every conversation. It’s impossible today to say something that will make everyone happy. I am constantly learning about emerging identities every day. I can fit into one identity but then I can fit into so many others as well. What should I take offence for? Where do I belong that I must defend it?
That’s why a lot of the times I let the offending words slide. If I can correct I do, but I try not to bite. I don’t succeed every time. ‘No offence’ was a way to voice your opinion without being penalised for it in the past. Sadly, today there’s too much fear to voice an opinion. Nobody wants to open the Pandora’s box of public scrutiny. There’s so much pressure to be politically correct.
One wrong joke and you could find yourself in court, or your name in the headline of tomorrow’s newspaper. I think everyone should be allowed some leeway, just to be able to learn. We learn about each other through voicing doubts and breaking stereotypes. If somebody hesitates to tell me something just because they’re afraid I might take it to heart they will never know the right thing about me. Those who don’t intend to be mean should be forgiven. Those who don’t know should be told and those who judge should be shown the mirror. It won’t work every time but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
The reason why ‘no offence’ is such a complicated and layered defence is that the definition of ‘offence’ itself has changed. I feel like every thought in my head might offend someone. I know there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with every thought of mine. So should I just stay silent? Will it solve everything? I’m not sure. We live in a world that has deconstructed language, a world obsessed with moving on, and a world that finds a new obsession every day. It’s a tug of war between identity and representation, between the old and the new. It’s a world where self-censorship is a necessity but it is also a choice.
I remember when I was young I had certain identities that were picture-perfect, Indian and female, that’s it. When I grew up I realised I belonged to a particular economic stratum, I had a particular ideology, my sexuality was ever-so-important and the religion I subscribed to would also be important and of course, how could I forget? My skin colour. How can I navigate this, when I am learning something new every day? So how can I not offend someone?
I hear everyone demanding freedom of speech without considering the repercussions. If everybody said what they really wanted to say, we’d break out into a war. Nobody would be happy, we might just stop speaking altogether because we can say whatever we want. Freedom of speech has always been tricky, we always seem to not have enough of it. Freedom of speech is that aspirational right, which translates into a simple demand, we want the freedom of saying something offensive without the other person getting offended, we want to say what we want to say without having to bear the consequences.
It’s only going to get harder, today I think thrice before saying or writing something, tomorrow I’ll just stop speaking or writing. I’d rather live in a hypocritical world where people will say, “No offence, but….” and say something offensive. I think that is real freedom of speech because the other person is aggravated but forced to stay tight-lipped. Maybe ‘no offence’ is the only thing keeping humanity in place. Isn’t that unsettling?