How Do I Avoid Being Offensive To Others? And Why Should I Care?

Question from a student: How Do I Avoid Being Offensive To Others?

We’ve all had those moments when we’ve said or done something which later caused us concern. Did we hurt someone’s feelings? Did we say something offensive? There really is no universal way of avoiding these conflicts, because each person is different and is offended by different things and by varying degrees.

However, one good way to parse such questions in a pinch is to use what I call the “Inversion Principle”. That’s a fancy name for something that’s actually pretty simple.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

If you’re a Pagan who has said something about Christians that you fear might be perceived as offensive, ask yourself how you would feel if a Christian had said the same thing about Pagans. If you’ve made a joke that you fear might have been seen as racist, ask yourself how you would take it if someone of another race said the same about your own. If you’re a woman and make a joke about men (maybe about them being clueless), how would it makes you feel for a man to say the same thing about women?

This seems simplistic because it is. It’s the simplest thing in the world. And yet few of us use the Inversion Principle in day-to-day life. Few of us will hold ourselves to that standard. But what a world we would live in if more of us did!

If nothing else, taking that extra moment to think about what you’re about to say, as opposed to just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, would help us avoid putting our proverbial foot in our mouth.

Basically, it comes down to this. Think before you speak. And ask yourself if you would be offended if someone else said to you what you’re about to say to someone else. Your life will be less stressful if you do.

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