September 16, 2021

Apologizing in Advance, Just in Case

Guest Opinion
By Mary Keyes Rogers | July 24, 2021

Even in casual conversations, I find myself, and I bet you do too, presenting a cautiously crafted preamble meant to apologize in advance for anything that I might say in the next few sentences, which, although unintentional, might be considered insensitive to a microscopic slice of the population. 

Yes?

Sometimes, I go on at such length covering my a** that I forget what I was even about to say.

Each time I do open my mouth, I’m grateful that I no longer represent anyone other than Mary Rogers. I’m not paid to represent a business, organization, or government agency. And that is a very good thing.

I did that type of work for most of my career. In today’s world, I’m afraid that I would last about five minutes before being canceled for saying something that could or might be interpreted to mean something possibly insensitive to one human on the planet, and I’d be led away to the Un-woke Shame Corner.

Earlier this month, I made a silly comment while giving directions to a visitor to the Open Space. When I showed him where to turn left, he humorously asked what happened to the people who turned right. Keeping up with his jovial tone, I laughingly said, “Oh you don’t want to know what we do to those people. But you look OK, so don’t worry.”

Honestly, I couldn’t even explain the humor in what I said; I was following his conversational lead and taking advantage of his setup. And apparently, it was a setup, because then he wanted an immediate explanation of what I thought he “looked like.”

What? Why is this guy who seemed nice and funny 10 seconds ago now looking at me like I run a concentration camp at the Open Space?

It didn’t occur to me at that moment that left and right meant anything other than directions.

I’m surprised he didn’t point his finger at me and yell “Gotcha!” It sure felt like he did.

Can I see myself saying the same type of thing from a podium? Yep. I wouldn’t see the Gotcha Gestapo coming my way until their fingers poked me in the face. I’ve lost my radar for rough waters ahead. 

This is just one small example of why you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to be a public spokesperson in this arena of self-righteous shaming.

People who hold public positions know The Big Rule: Don’t alienate anyone.

Today, there seems to be a sport enjoyed by sensitivity enthusiasts. They are looking for opportunities to trip up the innocent just for the sheer fun of it. “Gotcha! One point for us!” 

Could you pass the Woke Test during any random 24-hour day? The current standard of correctness holds the bar way too high for me, a circumstance that feels eerily similar to my recurring nightmare where I find myself in Olympic Stadium with a vaulting pole in my hands. 

But nobody would ever really expect me or you to be able to clear those heights, right? Wrong. There is no margin of error for the unpracticed.

Here is my C.O.A. preamble offered a bit late to those who will say what they will say: Of course, heightened awareness to the power of hate speech is not a bad thing. Truly offensive racists, sexists, or whateverists know to clean up their act and rethink their views. They can’t really hide these days. 

But for the vast majority of well-intentioned people who honestly have no hate for any particular group or desire to make somebody uncomfortable, well, I think we need to consider their comfort as well. 

In preparing to write this column, I made mention to a 20-something that I planned on writing about my aversion to and fear of the woke/cancel culture which her generation brought to the forefront. She warned me to be very careful in what I said because I could be dumped into the category of old-fart right-wing conservatives who call Democrats “Libtards.”

Really?

As the face of (or, rather, the mouth of) an organization, I’ve done my share of navigating fields of verbal landmines and, when necessary, could artfully shepherd board members, staff, and myself into the safety zone. Now, I’m not sure there even is a safety zone. 

My career started before social media, making salaried journalists and watchful editors working primarily for traditional print and broadcast media the sole arbiters of such correctness and the only ones with the ability to create a three-ring shame circus.

Those were the good old days.

Mary Rogers is the host of "The Experience 50 Podcast for Midlife" and an actively engaged citizen of Grand Traverse County. She lives in Traverse City.

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