Inner musings of a funny looking kid: when is offended offensive? (The title explained)

Ok, so I explained the origin and now the title…

By all accounts it was not going to be an easy entrance into the world for me. Never the less, I was born at an early age in a major maternity hospital in Perth, Western Australia in December of 1984. It wasn’t quite apparent what the problem was but it was clear something wasn’t right and so a collection of “experts” had gathered to join in on the fun.
After almost 3 days of struggling to get out, the doctors decided I needed a hand and I was born by emergency Caesarian. The mood was understandably tense. Coincidentally, as the obstetrician lifted a tomato-red me, the Salvation Army Band, who were setup near the stairwell began to play Joy to the World.
I always have liked to make an entrance.
The next day the obstetrician explained to my parents that a “normal” child can have up to 4 physical abnormalities. I don’t know how many I have, but I know I was lucky enough to have more than that. He went on to say that while it would not stop me from leading a “normal” life, it was uncommon and in the meantime I was what was known in the trade as an FLK (funny looking kid).
I had heard this story told and retold as an amusing anecdote many times throughout my childhood. Eventually it became part of my repertoire as well. It will usually elicit one of two reactions. The first and my personal preference is laughter. The second is offence but I’m never quite sure who they are offended for.
Perhaps I should just stop telling these tales as I get the same reaction when I tell the story about a supplier I used at work who accidentally told me he thought I looked like Gollum(of Lord of the Rings fame). In his defense, it was over the phone and, although we had met in person I honestly don’t think he realised it was me he was actually speaking with.
It did make me wonder though, is everyone really offended or do we take offense because we think we should?
When I first gained my vision impairment almost five years ago, I found the way that people took the news fascinating. I would often find myself consoling others who thought it was the end of the world. My favourite example of this was explaining the situation to one of my many visitors. As I was telling her she said, “Oh, I see” and then almost collapsed from embarrassment as she apologised again and again because she thought I was offended in light of what I had just told her.
Losing my sight wasn’t the easiest or most enjoyable period of my life and yes, it was hard slog at times to get my life back on track. I still struggle occasionally and I have been known to complain about how much easier it would be with the tiniest bit more sight but referring to seeing or looking in normal speech is not offensive.
For me, seeing the humour in situations, no matter how dire makes them more palatable and easier to digest. So much so that during my convalescence my Dad and I composed a quite sizeable list of puns I now have license to use. For example; if I am at church it’s blind faith, on a date it’s a blind date and if I’m angry it’s blind rage. For the record yes, you are allowed to laugh.
As I climb down from my soapbox, I must admit that I too am guilty of this very sin.
Recently, while on holiday in the Canadian town of Quesnel (the S is silent) I discovered how easy it is to fall into the trap of being offended. As we got off the train and boarded the coach that was to take us up to our hotel, the driver, who was giving a running commentary, began pointing out all the “little people” who were standing on various street corners in locally significant costumes.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this but I became increasingly uncomfortable when he mentioned that the people work for free and were there 24 hours per day to greet the tourists. I am not sure whether it was as a protest but I did not look out the window for the entire 10 minute trip.
Once we arrived at the hotel I mentioned my misgivings to my Mum. To her credit she held back her laughter as she said, “you know they are painted fire hydrants right?” Oops! I really had no right to be offended, if they had been real and that is what they had chosen to do then so be it. However I now know how easy it is to take offence on behalf of others.
For the record I went in search of some of these so called “little people” and they seem very happy and well treated in their ambassadorial roles.



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