the ‘no offence, but…’ pandemic

‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.

This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?

As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack to the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and torturously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.

So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.

Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). One thing I have found to work particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).

So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.

 

 

Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.

 

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a past full of wasted present

I’ve always had a very clear vision of what my life will look like once I become a grown up.

I’ll live in an old, light filled house; the kind where if you leave the front and back doors open, a soft breeze flows right through the middle. It will be a calm house in a quiet suburb, with a white picket fence whose paint is peeling off in lazy flakes. In my house there’ll be a room that’s only mine, filled with so many books that they’re piled in the corners, and a fat couch on which I can sit to read them. Days will pass slowly and I’ll spend them nestled at my desk in a nook near the window, writing glorious words. My house will have red saucepans and floral wall paper and out the back a big garden, where vegetables and flowers will grow in a sort of crazy, hap hazard harmony.

In my house I’ll have a border collie whose name will be Mack, and she and I will go running together in the afternoons. And there’ll be nosey chooks that roam the yard and who we are forever shooing out of the kitchen. We’ll string fairy lights along the porch and our friends will visit on Friday evenings to drink bottles of wine. On Sunday mornings we’ll sit on the front steps, listening to vinyls, with bed hair and big cups of tea, and the slightly too long grass will be just one more testimony to our absolute contentment. Life will be so great; I’ll be so happy when I grow up.

 

Ever since ever I was a kid I’ve had trouble living in the current moment, preferring instead to while away perfectly valid years of my life, waiting for things to get wonderful. Impatient as the day is long, I’ve dismissed so much of my present, considering it nothing but a necessary inconvenience which must be endured in order to obtain my fantastic future. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that by remaining idle I was wasting precious years; that what I should have been doing was getting busy with my here and now.

Since downing tools at the end of last year, things have become a lot clearer. In the last couple of months, I’ve done more to actively fashion my life’s canvas than I’d done in the preceding decade. Sure, I’d played some big cards in that time; a visit to Africa, a few sweet moments in Europe. But when I returned from these adventures, I stupidly settled right back into a sort of passive discontentment.

For so long I believed it was normal for daily existence to be ordinary. During this time I owed my survival and sanity to fleeting moments of brilliance, snatched through rare displays of spontaneity. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I’d do what any conservative soul would do on the verge of a mental breakdown; I’d chuck a sickie. Then, fuelled by the short fused euphoria of stolen time, I’d cram as much living as I could into that single evening. I’d stay up all night, playing music, painting, writing, drinking booze and end it all with a pre dawn stroll through the sleeping streets. Finally, utterly exhausted, I’d crawl beneath the folds of doona, just as dreaded first light forced its way through my bedroom window, reminding me that time never stops and that the previous evening was nothing but a self indulgent, pointless protest. I see now that setting my sights on a distant, romanticised future was my way of enduring what I felt was a deeply unsatisfying existence.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve wasted the best part of my twenties learning a simple yet vital life lesson: if you want to wander off the beaten track, you will have to pave your own path. And for the first time, I’m doing just that. I didn’t know it then, but it was on those rare stolen nights that I was tasting the true essence of living; the rest was nothing but an empty waiting. Now suddenly my life has begun, and I have some serious catching up to do.

 

I watched a speech by the late Steve Jobs this week. He was addressing an audience of young people at their university graduation. What he told them really stuck in my gut. He said that to live a successful life, you have to find what you love. He urged his audience to never settle, and to continue searching until they discover their passion. He stressed that this is the only way to ever be truly satisfied, so once you find what you love, you have to remain true to it, no matter how hard this might seem.

I like it when someone successful says something like that. It reassures me that I’m on the right track; that as tough as it may at first appear, paving your own way is not only possible, but for a life worth living, it’s necessary.

Until recently, my past has been filled with wasted present; years spent waiting expectantly for a future that never arrives. Now I finally understand that it’s impossible to exist anywhere but in the here and now. And you know what? For the first time in my life, that’s exactly where I want to be.

 

 

a study of irrational rage

I find anger fascinating.

I’m not talking about the exasperation you feel when your partner insists on hanging the washing with mismatched pegs, or the irreconcilable irritation that comes from turning on the television to discover that the only programme you bother to watch has been thoughtlessly cancelled to enable the screening of some stupid sporting event. Nor am I referencing the mixed feelings of forlorn frustration when the nightly news reports the latest dumb decision made by politicians who insist on running our government fuelled solely by personal motives.

I’m referring to the raw and irrational anger that can be witnessed every day in the faces of people outside your front door; the blind rage that consumes the person in the car behind you when you forget to indicate at the traffic lights. Sitting, waiting anxiously for the lights to change, you observe them cussing violently and making rude and animated gestures in your direction through the rear view mirror. Or the fury that brews behind the blank faced expression of the woman in the cinema, driving her to turn and spew hatred in your direction when you accidently kick the back of her chair.

We’ve all observed this kind of unpredictable and unfounded anger. As for me, I’ve spent significant chunks of time reflecting on where it might come from. After all, it’s scary. In my mind these once normal, well balanced individuals have been possessed by some kind of mean demon who survives on equal portions of spite and malice and whose objective is to slowly consume otherwise reasonable people. Shackled within the confines of dead end lives which they can’t remember choosing, these poor souls can find no escape. Losing sight of what they were once striving for, or perhaps never having known in the first place, they’re filled with a sense of hopelessness, and in response they react in the only way they know how; primal, unashamed anger.

I think we’ve all made the rookie error of thinking it’s possible to reason with these people, and have attempted to talk them down by calmly pointing out their unnecessary or unjustifiable behaviour. When being accosted in the grocery store for sampling a grape for instance, I have endeavoured to explain to the dutiful citizen whose red face was all too close to mine that they need to relax. I wasn’t planning on pulling up a plinth and making like Midas; I was only going to try one, as a means of deciding if I wanted to purchase a bunch. But these acts of measured reason are time and again met by the inflated rage of the accuser, who is angered inconsolably by my slight misdemeanour against the rigid societal rules to which they have unwontedly or perhaps subconsciously kowtowed.

Truth be told, we owe these individuals big time. For myself, every time I see them blasting one another in the parking lot or dragging viciously at the arms of their bewildered children, I am reminded that I am lucky; I have a chance to get out before the resentment that’s eating them up starts taking chunks out of me. I smile at them with open eyes and am typically rewarded with a scowl, which I gladly accept; after all, that could have been me turned crazed hate monger. Or maybe they’re just good people having a bad day.

My quiet contemplation of these folk over the past week has helped me let go of the things I’m preparing to leave behind. After tomorrow I will be able to state with a measure of happiness and horror that my budding career as an educator is over. Despite my discontentment regarding my job, it’s been hard to let go; quitting has meant foregoing relationships that I’ve been developing for years and has required abandoning people who might need me. A sentimental person, this has been hard to accept. My emotional self has begun to confuse my rationality, and my pushover of a mindscape has led me to question the thoughts that have consumed me for the past few years; do I really dislike my job or have I simply been being self indulgent?

Nevertheless, being in a state of flux is oddly suiting me. I have given up my lovely house in Newcastle and am squatting back at my dad’s place until the big move. So much of me enjoys the disordered chaos of it all. There’s a certain liberation that comes from selling all your worldly possessions on eBay. Or more accurately, giving your things away; turns out no one really reckons my stuff’s worth much. But wonderfully, the less I have, the lighter I feel. In summation and paradoxically, in the midst of uncertainty, things have never felt so right.

So I suppose I should begin looking for a place to live, else I’ll be arriving in the city in the New Year the proverbial bohemian, with nothing but the clothes on my back and a mind full of romantic notions. Either way, Melbourne town, I’m on my way!