A few weeks ago, I spoke at an event. The folks were lovely: Kind, friendly, considerate and welcoming.
The talk I gave, on how to get beyond commodity, master your message, and stand out in a sea of sameness, was very well received and got top ratings by attendees (they do real-time ratings–the minute you leave the stage, people cast their votes and feedback via the app).
Everyone liked it…but one guy.
I was at the bar later that night, much later, basking in the glow of these new people, new friends, and an overall great day. When he came up with a pointy needle and popped my bubble.
“You did a great job up there,” he started. “Just one thing offended me.” Yeah? What’s that.
“You took the Lord’s name in vain.” Oh, Jesus. It’s true–I said “goddamn” in my talk, but trust me, it was timed and placed in a context that had purpose and intent.
“You can say whatever you want,” he continued. “Fuck, cock, cunt, asshole…just don’t say goddamn or Jesus Christ.”
But, didn’t he just…? Wait a minute. My new friends stopped talking and paused over their prosecco to stare at me and him.
“If you don’t like using those words, sir, then don’t use them.”
“It’s offensive. You shouldn’t say it.”
“Sir,” I said. “I hear you. But now what if I dropped an F-bomb in the middle of my talk and someone got offended by that?”
“Then don’t say that.”
“OK, so, what you’re saying is, you expect me to edit what I say based on individual preferences for every talk I give? No. That’s not happening. I hear you, but it’s not happening.”
At this point, I really didn’t know what I was dealing with, and so I certainly didn’t want to escalate the situation.
“I’m trying to help you,” he said—and what’s sad is that I think he really believed that—“It would be better if you didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
We did not part friends, and neither of us walked away any smarter or more tolerant.
Of course, I thought of lots of things I WISHED I’d said. But it’s probably better that I didn’t.
One of them was this:
“Sir, I take offense too, but not to your words. Rather, to the idea that you have any right telling me what to say. I am a guest here, and not just invited but paid to come here to speak. I’m not sure why you think I need your help, but I assure you, I do not. I also doubt you approached any of the male speakers to give THEM tips on their performance. God is fine with his name being thrown around. He’s used to it. But what I’m not and never going to be ok with is you telling a woman what she can and can’t say. GOOD DAY SIR.”
In the movie of my life, can we pretend it went down that way? OK cool thanks.
This is to say: Every time you take a stage, whether it’s an actual stage or a digital platform, SOME PEOPLE ARE GOING TO HATE YOU FOR IT. They’ll find reasons why you’re wrong, or why you have no business being there at all.
My advice: IGNORE THEM. I was right not to make a scene when I’m there as a guest. But I did not capitulate or apologize and neither should you. This man doesn’t give a crap if I say “Goddamn” in the middle of a talk; he’s mad that I’m up there at all.
Sometimes the world is not only not welcoming, it’s the complete and total opposite. It’s dying to tell you what not to say, and to shut up altogether.
Don’t listen. Never, ever listen.