Addressing insensitivity & other blunders

Well-meaning folks do and say things that others find harmful and hurtful. If you find yourself in the presence of such a moment, what will you do?

  • Look the other way and say nothing?
  • Chalk it up as more evidence that some folks can’t be trusted?
  • Give the person a piece of your mind?
  • Write the person off?
  • Suffer/hurt in silence?
  • Gossip about the person’s insensitivity?
  • Be embarrassed (or shocked) and lower your expectations for that person?

These are all perfectly normal responses to gaffes and blunders, insensitive statements, and offensive actions.

But do they build the peaceable kin-dom? Probably not.

It’s possible to transform someone’s insensitive or offensive action into a “teachable moment,” and we all could stand to learn how to do that.

During a youth group meeting, one of the young men is talking about a dance concert he’d been to, and another youth mutters, “That’s so gay.”

While waiting for choir practice to begin, a man tells a story about a fender bender he’d been in that week, referring to the woman in the other car as “driving while Asian.”

During a sermon, the minister refers to “priests who play with little boys,” apparently unaware of the men in his midst who had been sexually abused by pastors. 

First, consider that responding out of concern for everyone who is present—speaker, spoken-to, and bystanders–is an act of care and compassion.

When you are in ear or eye-shot of an expression of blindly offensive comments, double standards, insensitive innuendo, the use of derogatory terms for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people, demeaning jokes–or even the casual “oh, that’s so gay” –why not take the opportunity to educate the speaker?

Speaking up about fairness for all people, stating what is unacceptable, and challenging mean-spiritedness is a justice-based response.

In our journey toward greater inclusion and broad welcome, missteps will occur. However, we want to arrive at a place of celebrating difference, not denigrating it.