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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Your Offensive Word Of The Day Is: Interesting

Here's a fact that you may not know about me, unless of course you're one of my close personal friends/co-workers who has listen to me yammer on and on about the stupid stuff that has engulfed me for the past six years.

I attract trouble like a beautiful woman attracts drooling men and women.

No really, I honestly do.

Since 2006, either online (chat rooms and Facebook) or in the real world, I have gotten into a world of trouble simply because I follow the old adage of engaging mouth before putting brain into gear. I'm one of those people who for the most part, doesn't really enjoy playing politics of any kind and will say what's on his mind, no matter what the consequences might entail.

Case in point and in fact, the basis of this fine post about the language police.

Early in February, a new statewide edict came out which stated that all state employees must undergo a rigorous training program about violence in the workplace. Now this isn't really something new, as something had been in place since the mid 90's after Connecticut suffered through a tragic workplace shooting at one of their state agencies. But things have accelerated in the past couple of years, since a tragic shooting at Hartford Distributors two years ago that left 10 people dead and a work place shooting that left two people dead a couple of months ago.

So a training program was developed by our wonderful H.R. department (no sarcasm intended, because the program was pretty decent) and our department got to be the guinea pigs, so to speak. We went over the usual things and did group exercises about different scenarios and saw a video that was the basis for the exercises in question (shooting at a post office in Michigan). We also covered quite extensively language and perception, in that sometimes the perception of what someone hears might be radically different that what the intention was.

For instance, say you were talking to a co-worker, and you used some provocative language that you knew that your co-worker wouldn't find offensive. But if someone walks by and overhears your conversation and for whatever reason finds what you're saying offensive, well then, you just might find yourself on the receiving end of a complaint.

The Encarta World Dictionary defines the word interesting as an adjective and gives the following definitions:

1} arousing curiosity, attracting or holding attention, or provoking thought.
2} enjoyable because of being varied, challenging, stimulating or exciting.

For the past 16 years, I would say in the four state agencies that I've called home about 85% of my co-workers have been female. Which means that I've spent about 16 years not only treading a fine line in what I could or couldn't say, but developing a language that was tweaked depending on the age bracket of the people I was talking to. I've found that people over the age of 40, were more likely not to be infected with political correctness and thus understood that calling a black person "black" was not an insult; and people under the age of 40 were most likely not only to be infected with political correctness but would have a hypersensitivity to language that bordered on paranoia.

So about two weeks ago (and about three days after the class), a co-worker of mine was wearing an interesting choice of apparel. When I had walked by her early in the morning, I said what she was wearing, "Interesting.", which I meant as a compliment/neutral statement.

About two and a half hours later, I stopped in my supervisor's office on a completely unrelated matter, and she told me to sit down and close the door. For the next fifteen minutes we had a lovely conversation over the fact that my co-worker found my choice of word uncomfortable and made a complaint to H.R. about it.

After we had finished our lovely conversation (no sarcasm intended here either), I contacted my union rep to let her know that I had gotten into trouble yet again. I also had a lovely ten minute conversation with my H.R. person, mostly to let her know what I thought about this entire complaint against me and to let her know that no insult was intended.

So in the course of three hours, I managed to become the very first casualty of a program that wasn't officially implemented yet, by having a complaint filed against me over me using the word interesting.

I'm not even going to get into the issue of the herculean task that my agency will face in trying to change the behavior and culture of the various units contained within, but I will tell you that within my little unit, this little complaint only solidifies the division between the people who have no problem employing hypersensitive hypocrisy when it comes to language and behavior, and the people who are grounded in reality when it come to language and behavior.

As for me, I'll just keep to myself and to my three other co-workers who are not only very grounded in reality, but don't play the little political gamesmanship that permeates most office environments.

18 comments:

  1. I bet if you used the words "You look nice" she still would file a complaint. Some people are just always out for blood, always searching for the chance to file suit.

    Best just keep compliments to yourself. No words are safe to use these days. Interesting is hardly offensive. It is neutral, as you said.

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  2. For heaven's sake! *eyeroll* I don't even know what to say about that. It's obviously ridiculous, but you knew that already.

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  3. Workingdan: I am the master of inflection, so I could turn the phrase "you look nice" on its ear and make it sound so explicit that I would get my face slapped.

    Having said that, I have no doubt that there are people out for blood. Doesn't mean I'm gonna change my ways, but it will mean that a policy of speaking with mouth closed and eyes open will probably be reinstated for use and abuse.

    S.R.: Basically I've gotten the eye roll, the slack jaw of surprise and the ever popular facial expression "are you shittin' me?", which has been the general consensus of everoe that I've talked to about this.

    Unbelievable is what I call, but not really surprised that someone would find a way to get upset about such a neutral word.

    Bearman: And I'm gonna tell my mom on you! :D

    I call it "Naturally Born Stupid".

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  4. I got the business cards. Very cool. Thanks.

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  5. Oh bloody fucking hell!!! The word "interesting" does not mean "Hey, I'd like to fuck your tits," last time I checked, does it? Fucking PC idiots.

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  6. Charles: You're very welcome. Hope things are going okay in your neck of the woods.

    M: I couldn't have put it better myself. :D

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  7. Was her choice of apparel provocative? Just curious about the outfit she was wearing that inspired that. :)

    We had a similar class at BellSouth - sigh. It's so easy to offend people. Sorry that happened to you.

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  8. Lynn: Nope. Wasn't provocative at all. Not sure how I can describe it beyond "interesting", because that is what it truly was.

    It's way too easy to offend people. We live in such a culture of victimization that no matter what we do, say or think, someone will take offense.

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  9. jesus, some people need a kick in the teeth. seriosuly, they fucking do. /madness/

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  10. Wow... interesting??? Seriously? I can only guess that this woman was extremely insecure and spent the rest of the day second-guessing her choice of dress, unsure of whether it was "interesting" good or "interesting" bad.

    It's really sad that political correctness has reached such ludicrous proportions...

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  11. Catherine: Absolutely. Believe it or not, this is a typical example of what we go through on a daily basis here in the States. Not only is there a hypersensitivity to words, but there is a wicked double standard applied as well.

    Lisa: I'm not so sure about insecure, but this person is definitely rigid in her work ethic (among other things). For the time being, we don't even talk to each other.

    I'm not so sure about political correctness as opposed to it being just very bad cliquish behavior that is flavored with a huge serving of a double standard.

    With that being said, I'll still maintain my personal policy of observing everything and making notes for future use.

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  12. Avy: Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Considering that I'm always getting into trouble at work, it seems to be the only policy that I could use to my advantage should the need arise.

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  13. Man, I hate that. That is simply ridiculous. Geez, it's not as if you walked up to her and smacked her in the ass.

    You got screwed big time. You should save yourself the trouble and just ask your HR department to make a list of acceptable words.

    We have become such a litigious and paranoid culture. I'm pretty lucky in that I have always worked in places where it's assumed that people are just people, and act as such.

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  14. Gumby: This time around, it's not so much as acceptable/unacceptable words, as it is perception.

    I'm very fortunate that I work with quite a few people who are pretty much grounded in reality as you and I, so offending people with my choice of language (and they with theirs) is pretty much non-existant.

    Still, all you need is someone to be having a bad day, and thus what might have been taken without grief or offense, is now considered offensive.

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  15. That's pathetic! I'm mad as hell for you, G. Honestly, this PC stuff drives me insane - what's more why do these "offended" people not have the balls to speak up for themselves? Why not just say "Hey, Georgie watcha mean?" and thrash it out with you? All this snooping around and bitching behind closed doors - ridiculous.

    I would not fit in with the modern workplace - I dread the day I have to go back to work an listen to all that mumbo jumbo. I'll have to sellotape my mouth up.

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  16. Jane: In the modern workplace, its easier and safer to make the complaint to higher ups than it is to complain directly to the individual.

    I myself asked that same question to my HR person and she told me that it was optional.

    I think that anyone above the age of 40 would not fit very well in the so called "modern work place".

    The modern workplace is ideally designed for people who are spineless and petty by nature and who are more like to comment about things on websits/blogs/forums under the tag "Anonymous".

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Go on, give me your best shot. I can take it. If I couldn't, I wouldn't have created this wonderful little blog that you decided to grace with your presence today.

About that comment moderation thingy: While yes, it does say up above I can take it, I only use it to prevent the occasional miscreant from leaving thoughtless and/or clueless comments.

So remember, all of your comments are greatly appreciated and all answers will be given that personal touch that you come to expect and enjoy.

G. B. Miller

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