By Gustavo Palomino
On many occasions at school and at the workplace we are forced to be dishonest or keep quiet when a difficult situation comes up because offending people is seen as a serious crime. The biggest problem with this is that it makes life boring. The second biggest problem is that this prevents us from truly understanding each other and solving, sensitive issues since we can’t openly talk about them. I am not suggesting that you should deliberately offend people, but that the possibility of offending somebody should not prevent you from expressing what you need to express.
The fear of offending others is perhaps most prominent when it comes to talking about race – or rather – not talking about it. Other than a few openly racist lunatics, we largely don’t talk about this topic although it is clear that it is still an issue. We never really got to the bottom of why some of us still feel uncomfortable around people who have a significantly different skin color. I’ve been lucky to have had a really honest relationship with a couple of people, and we talked about this not too long ago.
They, both white and they admitted that they do not hate black people in any way, but they do feel somewhat uncomfortable around them. They weren’t sure where this feeling came from, and they never tried to find the answer since admitting to that is offensive and people would be outraged. I am sure there are many others who also share this sentiment to varying degrees. It would be nice to explore this problem in the classroom, or with people at large, but we can’t since we have to pretend that it isn’t true because it is offensive.
In fear of offending people we also sometimes lie to them when they ask us how they look. This is most noticeable when the person we are judging is going to an important event and has decided to look her/him best. In these situations we often lie because we feel that telling them the truth is not worth them being offended. Unfortunately, we are wrong when we think this. Now, you may think, “what am I supposed to do?” “Should I tell her she is fat and ugly?” In principle, yes.
In practice, you can be nice about it. Say something like, “the truth is that I do not find you attractive.” If she asks why, then you can elaborate. So, you may say something like, “to be honest, you are overweight and unfortunately, I am not attracted to that body type.” Of course, this will offend her. The point is that it is worth her being offended. Now she knows how you feel about her, which lets both of you know where you stand. Being open about where we stand with each other prevents us from investing into relationships and projects that will only end in disappointment. She will get over being offended.
I’ve been offended countless times, and I feel that it is always worth experiencing. Anything that offends me, or anyone else has some strong reason for doing so. If someone does or says something that hurts our feelings, it is because we are very sensitive to that something. It is important to explore that something to find out who we really are, and why we really are that way. Things we are sensitive to are very meaningful to us and dictate a lot of our actions. Being openly honest seems to be the only way to figure out who we are, and what our place in the world really is. It isn’t the end of the world if you get offended. The sky doesn’t fall, the ground doesn’t open up and eat you and life simply goes on.