Thursday, February 23, 2012

Offense and Sensibility

I will probably offend you.

Hell, take the 'probably' out of it.  I will offend you.  We may be friends, you may be a stranger (I hope you're not my mother, because I use swears a lot), but something that comes out of my head is going to upset you.  I will be too radical, too logical, too emotional, too dogmatic, too spiritual, too feminist, too pragmatic, too conservative.  I will be not feminist enough, not logical enough, not compassionate enough, not spiritual enough, not patriotic enough, not pagan enough for you.

I will fail you, if you are reading this.

The thing to remember is that it's not about you.  Like most humans, I am self-centered (unlike many humans, I own it and am not ashamed of it).  I don't wake up in the morning looking for ways to upset people's applecarts, trying to figure out how I can piss off the greatest number of people before lunch.  I do not have the time and energy to seek out ways to be an irritant to others.  I do speak my truth as I see it, whenever I can find a way to do so with a little grace; that truth is sometimes clumsily spoken, and not always well-received.

Each of us goes through life faced with the constant pressure to choose whether we will speak our truths, or whether we will lie.  Some lie with silence, some lie with courtesy, and some lie by coating a wholesome truth in poison so that no one can swallow it.  The hardest thing I've ever known is to wrap just enough kindness around a sharp-edged truth that it can cut what needs to be cut without leaving gaping wounds.  It's a delicate art, and one I don't claim to master.

Into every attempt at that art, even at the best of times, comes baggage.  Old anger, old perspectives, old alliances.  New causes, new relationships, new expectations.  I cannot control what you are experiencing, and I cannot be responsible for it.  I can avoid deliberately incendiary language, deliberate attacks, historically loaded terms and ideas, but beyond that I can't take on the burden of another person's emotional response to what I say and do.  I can avoid knowingly doing things that piss off those around me, and I can be mindful of the effect of my words.  I can let others know how their words affect me; one of the most important truths you can articulate comes in listening, in repeating, in saying "Do you know that this is what I hear you saying?  Do you mean to be saying it?  If you don't, can you help me to understand what you are saying?"

When I speak of 'my truth' I am not speaking of 'The Truth'.  I don't know if 'The Truth' exists or not, or if I would recognise it if it did.  'My truth' is the reality of how the world looks from my place in it.  It's a composite of my perspective and my experiences, my privilege and my struggle.  The things I choose to read and listen to, the friends I select, the influences I bring into my life, all touch on and alter my truth.  My truth doesn't have to be your truth.  Neither do I have to accept that because you are passionate about your truth, I have any obligation to embrace it without challenge.

And when that happens, that challenge?

I will probably offend you.

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