I guess everyone has accidentally offended someone in their lifetime at some point. Some to a greater degree than others, perhaps by asking when a baby is due, to then be informed that she is not even pregnant…or being judgemental about a particular TV programme, to discover that it the favourite show of the person you are talking to (in no way referring to personal experiences, whatsoever…).
There does seem to be a point in every friendship where both parties are familiar enough with one another to be able to reasonably judge how each other will respond to certain situations. You will be able to know what might offend your friend and what you can joke with them about. You know each others boundaries. Certain life events may also reset such boundaries. ‘Is it too soon to joke about that’ may be said , or ‘You will see the funny side of it later’ may also be uttered. Sometimes there will never be a funny side of it, and it may never be okay to joke about it.
This thought brings me to an occasion when we were socialising within a group of people when a passing ‘banterish’ comment was made about boynumbertwo. The comment referred to his disability. At the time, I let it pass and chose to ignore what was being said, but the comment stuck with me for the whole day. I was upset and offended by what had been said. Why had I taken such offence to this comment on this occasion? The comment was meant to be lighthearted and fun, however it crossed that boundary for me, and I did not find it funny. I am certain that the person who said it treated it as a throw away comment, and does not even remember saying it.
I have touched upon this before when writing. Most of the time I am perfectly accepting of his condition and can rationalise other peoples reactions and responses, but just from time to time I cannot, and it gets me. So why did it get me on this day? Maybe because I was having a sensitive day, maybe because I thought the person in question was understanding and sympathetic and I interpreted the comment as being the opposite of that, maybe because the comment was directly about his disability. Boynumbertwo does things on a daily basis that we laugh at, and he is a very funny chap. We laugh regularly, as do others, with him. However, there is a difference between laughing at his actions and laughing at his disability. I think that is why I got offended by this. Perhaps that friend was confused between the two, I guess it can be a fine line at times.
I can tell you of an occasion where I was able not to think in that way, and not be really offended. I was asked about Boynumbertwo and his conditions. I began explaining, and thought I was doing a good job when the person I was speaking to gave me a response of ‘I have seen The King’s Speech, he couldn’t talk because he had been through a traumatised childhood, he had therapy and he could talk. Do you think your son could have some therapy and be able to talk?’ At this point, (after a short stunned silence of thinking, ‘What the heck have I just heard?? I did not tell you about a traumatised childhood, nor did I tell you about a severe stammer that he has, I told you about his medical condition and how that impacts him’ ) I was able to just walk away and think to myself that this person has both poor listening skills and social skills, and I was not in the least bit offended. that interaction said much more about the other person.
As a psychologist, I know that many approaches to self development, personal growth and social skills tell us that the only actions and responses that we can truly do anything about and influence are our own personal ones. So whilst educating others about disability and awareness of the impact of their own interactions on others is important, and I think that might be why I am writing in the first place, it is also important to self reflect. I probably need to work on fully owning my responses and learn that in the moment of the first incident, the words he chose said more about him and his attitudes and awareness, and not about my son’s disability being funny, and truly accepting that and not feeling offended.
Maybe next time you feel offended by someone, ask yourself if it says something more about them than you, and maybe you will feel less offended. However, knowing the theory and acting upon it are two different things. Like I said, I need to work on that….