Opinion: Likely to cause offence


We all get offended by things we hear or behaviour we experience.

It’s natural to feel upset or hurt by inappropriate comments or actions and it takes a level of resilience to deal with it. It’s normal to disagree with others’ views but usually that doesn’t mean they should be banned from voicing them.

NZ hasn’t been immune from heated debates around free speech or racial and gender equality, cue the recent fracas around controversial speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.

It’s also been hard to miss the emboldened voices of other segments of our society who have traditionally been on the receiving end of discrimination or disrespect with the likes of the #MeToo movement hitting headlines.

As a democratic and civilised society, these topics bubbling to the surface for debate isn’t to be feared, it’s how we evolve social norms. However, it’s not always positive, and these elevated levels of social justice coupled with our hyper-connective world have served up some negative outcomes.

One such outcome is people living in a state of perpetual offence on behalf of others. Mark Richardson said it well the other day, he doesn’t want to walk on eggshells for the rest of his life at the risk of offending or upsetting people and we need to develop resilience. That very resilience we need to turn the other cheek and carry on is being severely eroded.

We have a proliferation of self-appointed guardians of social dignity, getting offended on behalf of others, in a rabid rush to signal their outrage and hashtag the moral high ground.

In this frenzy, things get taken out of context and people are attacked without the full story being taken into account.

We had a classic example of this closer to home in recent weeks.

A light-hearted conversation between two consenting adults on Facebook apparently required intervention from Auckland lawyer and #MeToo blogger Zoe Lawton, who made a complaint to the Law Society.

Mainstream media rushed in like schoolboys to a playground fight, fanning the flames of discontent around well-respected Queenstown lawyer Graeme Todd and his whimsical Facebook comment to a friend in regard to the female gender imbalance at his local law firm.

No one bothered to ask Graeme’s staff if they were offended by what was clearly a joke, or if they enjoyed working with him.

Zoe and others simply rushed in, misinterpreting the jovial banter’s harmless intentions, vilifying the well-respected lawyer.

Incidentally the comment in question was made under a shared photo of a work lunch at The Hills’ golf course for the Todd & Walker team.

Luckily the defence for Todd was equally as swift with most people seeing the issue for the PC garbage it was.

I’d challenge Zoe Lawton to visit Todd & Walker Law and ask staff about the work environment, it’s probably one of the most progressive and harmonious I’ve seen.

The staff Christmas functions are even overseas trips.

Media and the armies of offended keyboard warriors give legitimacy to this sort of dross. No one would have heard of the likes of Southern and Molyneux nor of Graeme’s light-hearted comments if people hadn’t made such a song and dance about them.

The very people who wanted to silence things they didn’t agree with ensured that everyone heard about it.

Remember, you can always stop reading, listening to or viewing things you find offensive, including me, and before you get offended on someone’s behalf ask them if they are in fact offended. You might find they have a better sense of humour than you think.

Mark Wilson is a marketing consultant who likes to stick his oar in