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.



About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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