Resist The Urge

Joe Wallace Vinyl Collector and authorI can’t say I learned any valuable lessons today after reading some of my fellow freelance lifestyle bloggers, but I do feel I’ve gotten a good reminder to count to ten, hold my breath, check and double check my writing after ranting.

Not that all my fellow bloggers are ranters, just me.

I was reading a better-left-unmentioned freelance blog post about what freelancers can learn from celeb missteps in the public eye. Something bugged me about the article and I really, REALLY wanted to open fire with both barrels over it. But I’m sure (OK, I am HOPING) it was just poor word choice at work, so I decided to let it go.

Sort of.

The article mentions a famous person’s far-too-open comments during interviews and in social media–using them as an object lesson for freelancers on what not to do in the public eye. The article stated the celeb made “racial comments”, offered up too much sex life detail, and made “homosexual comments”.

The “homosexual comments” bit really bugged me and it took a good five seconds to figure out why. In a not-quite-a-laundry-list of ill-advised things this famous person did, “homosexual comments” stood out as being a negative and a bit singled out–the previous complaint had to do with sex life TMI, so why the attention on “homosexual comments”?

I can’t accuse the writer of being a gay basher, and that’s not my point. But a more thoughtful choice of words would prevent the impression–however fleeting (or not)–that there’s some anti-gay sentiment going on in that article. Note that I’m not accusing anyone of actually being a hater, but rather pointing out that poor word choice can lead to that perception.

My inner optimist wants to think the person who wrote this is only guilty of a poor turn of phrase and has no real bone to pick with consenting adults who spend their time in a manner of their choosing regardless of how intriguing or threatening that might seem to people unfamiliar with a given lifestyle.

But my inner pessimist thinks maybe sometimes some people somewhere make a Freudian slip (intended or not) and that slip can be a big red flag with regard to professionalism, EEO and a myrid of other things. Is that true in this particular case? I’m going to side with the optimist for fairness’ sake. I can’t honestly say there was malice aforethought here. But again, that’s not the point.

As professionals, our words are read, scrutinized, absorbed, made fun of, regarded as wise, and repeated. We’re all guilty of writing, saying, and doing insensitive things. But it’s a different sort of thing when you’re trying to give advice to other professionals and those aspiring to follow your lead.

Dispensing advice from on high is pretty damn easy to do (beautifully illustrated here by me), but don’t let a throwaway phrase knock the wind out of the entire presentation. Nobody likes to be excluded, but in this particular case one segment of the audience may have gotten a little taste of exclusion–whether intentional or not. “Homosexual comments” could mean anything to anybody. But it doesn’t sound good, and it’s not what the writer wanted that article to be remembered for.

And there’s the lesson.

–Joe Wallace