Are You Civilized? (A Quiz)

Here’s the scenario: A person or group lets you know that something you said/wrote offended them or hurt their feelings. What is your first response?

My FIRST response (pick one) is to tell them that…

  1. I did not intend to hurt or offend them, so they shouldn’t feel hurt or offended.
  2. What I said was true, so they shouldn’t feel hurt or offended.
  3. I’m entitled to express myself however I like, it’s a free country.
  4. They should get a thicker skin, it’s a rough and tumble world and they’d better get used to it.
  5. They should explain their reaction and justify to me in detail why they were upset. If they’re not willing to do that then they shouldn’t say anything.
  6. Everybody says stuff like I just did, so only hypersensitive or politically correct people are bothered by it.
  7. If they don’t like what I have to say, they shouldn’t listen to me or read what I write.
  8. Too bad, I meant to provoke them into a debate. If they can’t come back swinging and are just going to whine about their butt-hurt, they’re just proving that they’re the big pussy-wussy I thought they were. America is founded on the clash of ideas, so they FAIL.
  9. They should remember that sticks and stones may break their bones, but words can never harm them.
  10. What I said is very important, so their hurt feelings don’t matter.
  11. They’re mistaken: I didn’t offend them or hurt their feelings.
  12. I HAD to say it, so they shouldn’t be hurt or offended.
  13. If what I wrote hurt or offended them, they’re either ignorant or stupid. They need to be smarter or less ignorant.
  14. I’m truly sorry.

If your first response is not number 14, then in my opinion you are not a civilized member of society.

AFTER you apologize, sincerely, for causing distress, it may be appropriate to query so as to learn more about why you caused pain to others; it may be reasonable to discuss the merits of the point at hand; and perhaps eventually even reassert your right to speak in such a way as to cause distress in this case. But initially, a heartfelt apology is the correct, kind, and civilized way to respond when you learn than you have engendered unhappiness or discomfort in others by your words.

Being “right” or subject to exigent circumstances does not excuse you from the apology. The First Amendment has no bearing on whether you should apologize or not. It’s not the hurt party’s obligation to educate you about their history, circumstances, or personal life before an apology is offered. You are not the legitimizing arbiter of other people’s feelings; you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t hurtful to other people, nor does majority rule in these matters. The appropriate primary response to another’s report that you have caused them pain is not a defense of your own behavior, and certainly not an attack on the person hurt or offended. Being dismissive, contemptuous, domineering, or abusive is an uncivil response.

It’s this simple: civilized people genuinely regret causing hurt to others. When they learn they have done so, they strive not to do so again. If some overriding greater-good concern makes it impossible to avoid doing so in the future, they look for a way to minimize the harm.

P.S. If your apology comes in the form of “I’m sorry, but…” it doesn’t count. You must pause and listen after the “sorry.” You don’t get to follow up with explanations or other discussion until after you have given the other party an opportunity to express the full nature of their distress. You may need to say “I’m sorry” multiple times before they are finished.


Two Years Ago: Time Slice


One Response to Are You Civilized? (A Quiz)
  1. --S
    December 14, 2012 | 2:22 am

    I agree, especially with the part about trying to learn why what you said/wrote caused the other party pain. Due to others being hurt by words I’ve chosen, after listening to them, I’ve tried very hard not to use those words again – the “R” word comes to mind. Even if the apology is heartfelt and sincere, if you don’t take the time to learn why/how you’ve hurt someone, you will never change.