People, as a general rule, are really bad about jumping to conclusions. Whenever someone says something in a public venue (like the internet, for example), the general populace is very quick to assume they know what that person is trying to convey. They make inferences that may not have been intended, leaving the speaker completely dumbfounded as to how someone could have thought that’s what they meant. They then must embark on a PR campaign to try and clear their sullied name because some asshole decided they knew the speaker better than they really did.
I’m not going to mention any names, or point to any specific instance of this, but it happens all the freaking time. It’s orders of magnitude worse when the topic is something racy like gender stereotypes, sexuality, human rights, abortion rights, reproductive rights, First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, rape, pedophilia, animal cruelty, etc. The list of people’s hot-button topics goes on for a long, long way. And anytime anyone says anything that maybe kinda-sorta touches on one of those topics, people always assume the worst.
The speaker, then, must wade through a blizzard of negative tweets, retweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, Tumblr posts, and gossip columns bashing them for being anti-(insert groupthink topic here) when, in reality, they meant nothing of the kind. This very thing has ruined careers, friendships, and relationships that should not have been strained because people were in violent agreement and simply unwilling to listen.
So, here’s what I’m trying to say to you all: stop, think, and ask. When someone says something that you think can’t possibly be what they really meant to say, ASK THEM A QUESTION! Clarify. Don’t be a smart ass and make some sort of sarcastic retort that will only fuel a fire they probably never even meant to set. Be courteous, respectful, and understand that some people don’t have the exact same thought process that you do. They may relate things differently in their mind and when they said something that you thought was belittling an ideology, maybe they simply consider their analogous subject to be much more important than you do.
Not only that, but (this seems so obvious to me, but it’s been the center of many a political and social media scandal) make sure you understand the true definition and usage of all the words they used. I know I said I wasn’t going to use examples, so all I’ll say here is “niggardly”. It DOES NOT mean what many people think it means. Given the current socio-political climate, it’s probably a word best left out of your vocabulary, BUT, it’s a valid word that has a perfectly inoffensive meaning. Still, best left unused in a public arena because things can be misconstrued by people who love to jump to conclusions about someone’s beliefs and world views.
The next time someone makes a statement, or posts a comic, or tweets something that you think is so unbelievably insensitive or crass, do me a favor. Step back, breathe, formulate a response, and make sure that response goes something on the order of “What you said came across in a way I was not sure you intended. To clarify, your statement seemed to make insinuation XY. This insinuation could be incredibly offensive to people who YZ. Could you please make clear what you wished to convey here, as it relates to this group?”
If they come back and say that the ignorant bigotry you pointed out was exactly what they intended, then by all means skewer them in any forum you deem suitable, but remember, your words can be misconstrued as well. So don’t say anything you might regret later.