In a discussion with a younger friend today, she insisted when in terms of “I’m offended” it is not the intent of chosen words that matters, it’s the impact of these chosen words that matters.
This is a statement – in absolute terms – I completely disagree with, no wiggle room or variance or debate.
How is anyone to know what is in the heads of others and what life experiences and what sensitivities exist? Are we to second and third and fourth guess every word we intend to utter? Because that is what is being demanded.
That is the first logical failure.
And, how personally disempowering, giving one’s power to another, making them responsible for an impact unknown and unforeseen. I never allow others dominion over my thoughts and emotions.
That is the second logical failure.
And how morally presumptuous, this expectation and entitlement of impact over intent, to believe what is important to one is important to all others by predetermined design.
That is the third logical failure.
The discussion came of me telling a handsome young friend he is handsome and exotic. This was perceived (by her) as a racist and insensitive statement, that I’d never been told I’m aesthetically exotic lest I would understand just why the word “exotic” is so offensive.
Not so and exactly the opposite.
My lovely Clare, who sadly passed away in 2017, often told me she was very attracted to my exotic features. And that had me feeling just great, to be called exotic. To be told that my physical appeal transcended convention is endearment and compliment, not insulting and racist.
I liked being told my features are exotic by Clare.
This is a fine example of how a single word can be construed as both insulting and complimentary, and since my intent and Clare’s intent is complimentary then the impact is unique, specific, and personal. The impact depends upon the person.
In all cases, intent outweighs and is priority over impact. In all cases. Quibbling is semantics, and that’s precisely the failure of impact over intent. This worldview is based on the naturally subjective qualifier of “It depends.”
How can conjecture ever be an aboslute? It can’t. But intent is absolute. I know what I meant to say and what my words mean. And if in doubt, just ask me, “What did you mean by that?”
No one has any authority to insist what is meant by my words. None.
The conversation closed with the scolding, “I guess you were never taught in school that being sensitive to the impact of words is how society works.”
And she is 100% correct. I was never taught in school what she was taught.
In school, I was taught personal responsibility.