Offence is Taken, Not Given

Push envelopes. Blur the edges. Provoke. Grab people’s attention through irreverent comedy. At the most recent National Alliance to End Homelessness conference I got called “gonzo”, “brilliant but irreverent”, and “troubadour of disruption”. All in a day of work for me.

On the days when I have my A game, two things will happen: a large volume of people will go out of their way to tell me they are inspired, feel challenged, energized and ready to improve what they do; and, a small volume of people will go out of their way to tell others how much I offended them. Sometimes it was my approach. Sometimes my language. Sometimes my use of comedy to help people stay engaged. Here are examples of things over the past few months people have gone out of their way to tell me were offensive:

  • taking off my shoes when presenting
  • not wearing a suit and tie when meeting with an elected official
  • saying “fuck”
  • suggesting prisons for profit are manufacturing prisoners
  • outlining how ineffective AA usually is (while also making clear that if someone is in recovery using AA they should continue to do what works for them)
  • sharing that people involved in sex work use phrases and acronyms that is a code (and then deciphering some of those in a session on harm reduction)
  • checking my phone while presenting (even after indicating that people can text me questions while presenting if they didn’t want to ask aloud)
  • making a remark that the “heroin epidemic” is getting attention as a health crisis because white people are disproportionately impacted now
  • challenging the suggestion that people need income before they can be accepted into a housing first program
  • making a joke about cats being a poor pet choice
  • suggesting that if change was so easy we would all do it – including being a healthy body weight
  • commenting that a two dad family with a child constitutes a “family” not only when doing the Family SPDAT, but in life generally
  • making jokes about my own parents and upbringing
  • distinguishing between opinions and facts, and that people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts
  • outlining how not everyone that lives with mental illness needs to take medication
  • having to ask a group continually disrupting a presentation to leave the training (and to be clear, they were the ones that were offended)
  • outlining how moral views of sex and sexuality can differ from legal views of the same, and how that can impact service delivery
  • suggesting that if you are lurching from one crisis to another rather than proactive, planned service it is impossible to achieve the bigger picture outcomes

But the thing is this – I never go out to offend anyone. Why? Because offence is never given. When my values and beliefs are different than yours; when my moral compass is different than yours; when my approach to seeing an issue may be different than yours it is entirely possible someone will be offended. But that is because they took offence. I gave them nothing.



Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

5 Responses to “Offence is Taken, Not Given”

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  1. Dawn Gilman says:

    Keep disrupting – that is where space for change is created. It is messy and sometimes painful but worth it.

  2. There is a distressingly large segment of the population in the US that clings mightily to the idea that they can have their own facts. I think that’s because the objective facts don’t support their opinions (or their “moral” code) and having those challenged is uncomfortable at best. It’s funny that liberals are so stereotypically given to making decisions based on heart and not head, but it’s the crop of people currently using the label conservative that seem most prone to rejecting objective reality.

  3. Emma B says:

    Why bother to turn up at one of your events if theyre not prepared to have they’re views challenged?

  4. My pet peeve is when someone takes offence on behalf of a hypothetical person who might be offended if they were here. “I think that story is offensive to Muslims.” “Oh dear, tell me more. I don’t have many Muslims in my classes.” I’m not a Muslim.” oh. (She isn’t a Muslim, no Muslims in the class, but that’s not really what is going on – is it?)

    For myself, I see taking offense as a sign of my own immaturity. In groups it is a classic passive aggressive maneuver. My dog Lucy does it to get attention. Big dog sniffs near her and she screams like a car hit her. Sigh…it’s effective I guess. Big dog gets in trouble “What did you do to her?” and I swear I can see my tiny little italian greyhound who uses her brains for evil smiling to herself.

  5. Gayl Killough says:

    I love this particular blog post. My only point of difference would be that we should be offended. There is nothing wrong with being offended, nothing at all. Thank goodness that we are finally recognizing and admitting to be offended. We are too far into our own comfort zones and/or privilege if we do not encounter people that offend us. After being offended, the next question is what is it really worth to us. Someone taking off their shoes while presenting vs someone stating that poor disabled people don’t deserve decent housing are vastly different things. I do what I do for a living because I am offended that people are homeless. Being offended is a catalyst for change.

    A certain group of people do not have to be present for me to call out someone on behalf of another group. If I am in a meeting and someone makes a derogatory stereotypical comment about the homeless, there doesn’t need to be a homeless person in the room for me to call out the comment. Now, just because I call someone out, that does not mean that I expect the person to change, but I am not letting it go unchallenged. It also doesn’t mean that I think the person has bad intentions either, I usually assume good intent, which is another reason to call out, clarification. Also, there is a bigger picture, that if no one calls something out, no one may realize anything is wrong. Jerks benefit from no one calling them out too. Now petty stuff should be dismissed as petty because it is petty, but we should never be afraid to speak up and call out offenses either. Just make sure the offenses are worth mentioning and fighting for before calling them out.