It’s not unusual to get feedback on the stuff I write here. I have admit though that this rarely involves a couple of emails giving me stick for the same column but for different reasons.
One took exception over how I failed to be outraged by fatuous comments from Boris Johnson about burkas. The other was incensed that I chose to depict the former foreign secretary as what he himself might call a ‘vainglorious poltroon’.
What caught my attention though was that both writers described themselves as ‘offended’.
As it happens, I plead guilty on both counts regarding Boris - thus making me a serial offender I guess; but let’s not get finicky.
Taking offence at something seems to be a growing societal condition. Apparently, we’re more likely to tread on someone’s sensibilities via the written word than by opening our mouths. At least those are the findings of a group of Oxford academics who somehow managed to actually get a grant to look into such trivia.
Being a white, male, sixty-something, as one of the emails gratuitously described me, I employ considerable care in taking into account someone’s size, propensity to violence and/or their access to a good lawyer before setting out to deliberately offend them.
That said, I also venture into cyber-space where derogatory terms like “snowflake” or “gammon” and a lot worse are common parlance.
A colleague of mine likes to observe that recent times have seen the emergence of thousands of instant political pundits – most of whom consider a polling booth to be an alien environment – and who prefer to circumvent honest discussion by being offensive.
My own experience of those who make throwaway references to “proper democratic debate” is that they’ve probably never participated in one and wouldn’t recognise an amendment or a substantive motion if it poked them in the eye.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s always going to be a place for the age-old political tradition of rubbishing the messenger, along with the message, but democracy takes a back seat whenever argument gets confused with abuse.
If you have a straightforward debate and speak your truth without any attempt at moderation or sensitivity, then inevitably someone is going to get offended. That’s the way of the world.
In the past, you had the option of slapping a glove in someone’s chops as a precursor to demanding satisfaction. Nowadays, the less confrontational alternative is to block or unfriend them on social media.
I know which I prefer. Keep those emails coming.
Democracy is double-edged
If you want to know what offends me, take a look at the online abuse levelled at Wales Online reporter, Ruth Mosalski, after her interview with newly elected Ukip leader Gareth Bennett was cut short by him walking out.
It’s not the first instance of a politician deciding to unclip his microphone in the face of robust scrutiny. Nor sadly is it the first time that someone posing questions on our behalf has been on the receiving end of such a stupid and sexist tirade.
The reporter in question can look after herself and doesn’t need the likes of me to endorse her approach or interview technique.
Yet if we don’t challenge intimidation on this level then we put at risk a cornerstone of a pluralist democratic society which requires the public hears both sides of any story.
Mr Bennet’s decision to walk out means that this opportunity was lost – and that is no-one’s fault but his.