Let’s say you’re at a party or a luncheon or a night club and you strike up a conversation with some people. At one point you manage inadvertently to say something that annoys one of them — a curse word, a compliment to a politician they despise, a cheer for a sports team they happen to hate, “girl” instead of “woman”, “African American” instead of “person of color” — and the listener responds with, “I find that offensive, and you should apologize!”
Normally, if you happen to step on someone’s actual toes, you say, “Sorry! You okay?” or something similar, and they know you weren’t trying to hurt them. This type of apology is warranted and wise. But if you make a comment and they feel insulted, it’s a different story. What should you do?
Most people would get flustered and stammer out some sort of mea culpa. Here’s why that won’t work:
- Once your listener becomes angry, it’s already over. You’ve said something that, in their mind, puts you on the wrong team — on the side of evil. The enemy is always either wicked or stupid, and so far, you’re a wicked enemy. If you beg pardon, the listener will shift you into the category of stupid enemy. Either way, you’re toast. You’ll never again have their respect.
- If you apologize, the listener will thereafter regard you with tolerant contempt. Basically, they got you to abandon your own cultural attitudes and beliefs. You acted like Jeb Bush. Thereafter, effectively you’ll be unable to say anything in their presence. Socially you’ll be regarded, by all witnesses, as an inferior — a loser. This will last for a very long time.
- If you don’t apologize, the listener thereafter will regard you with undiluted hatred, and, on the spot, either fight you verbally (or, on occasion, physically) or depart in a huff, and you won’t see them again.
Notice the opportunity here? Clearly, the choice is to not apologize. This usually results in their exit, whereupon peace and happy times descend once again into your life. Now and then, though, they’ll lay into you with words of argumentative and/or insulting intent. This is where you have an opportunity to practice humorous verbal skills.
Whatever you do, don’t argue with them! This merely legitimizes their position. Instead, permit them to bloviate, then pause, and finally respond with something carefree. For example:
“That’s a great shirt you’re wearing.”
“Whatever you say, dear.”
“So, who do you think will win the Olympic high jump?”
“Do you always kiss on a first date, or do you make them wait?”
“They say it’s gonna rain later.”
“Did you hear the one about the dirty limerick contest?”
“You’re sexy when you’re angry.”
“I was wondering. Are the appetizers any good here, or should I go straight to the entrees?”
“Okay, so a monk, a clone, and a Ferengi decide to go bowling…”
“Having a bad day, are we?”
“Do you think there are too many award ceremonies on TV?”
“Ah, you had the garlic dish. Was it any good?”
“For the life of me, I’ve completely forgotten. What was the inflation rate last quarter?”
“Your mother called. She says you’re out past your bedtime.”
In the unlikely event that the listener decides to challenge you to fisticuffs, your best bet — unless you happen to be a Golden Gloves champion — is to run away. This will make you into a roguish hero, a la Captain Jack Sparrow, and people will remember how breezy you were while toying with that stuck up, self-important violent person. And you got away with it! How cool is that?