When the twins were little one of the things that were added to family lore was something one of the twins did, frequently. They would add the phrase “I don’t mean to offend, but” The first part was an attempt to convey information. The but was the dangling danger sign. For a time both twins did that, but after a year of gently convincing them that this was offense, they stopped. You can’t offend and then justify it. It is a hard lesson to learn. One of the things I tried to teach the twins is that it is ok to offend people accidentally. It happens all the time. Two people speak, one person doesn’t have the same set of ears as the other person, and they hear things differently. They can be offended by the phrases used.
There were a million excuses the twins came up with over the years. I didn’t mean that was my favorite. As they, the twins got older they were able to see the impact of the words. Words are the best, and the worst thing humanity has created. Language in and of itself is a confusing web of intent, sarcasm, meaning, and duplicity. Words that mean things to children don’t have the same meaning as adults. Adults have hard conversations, sometimes in front of the kids. The twins would hear those conversations and try to participate as children do. We would, sometimes gently, sometimes not gently push them out of the conversation. That probably wasn’t optimal, but it was right.
Now the phrase, I don’t mean to offend but, is in the family lexicon. We all know that when you start a sentence with that, what comes after that is offensive or painful. The most important thing that we were able to teach the twins, and our daughter, is to own that. It is ok to say hard things to people. But own the hurt feelings that result. After we convinced the twins not to use that phrase they began the justification phase. That is a much more difficult situation. Everyone has a justification for what they say. Everyone has the right to speak. But no one has the right to injure. If someone attacks you, and you perceive that it an attack the next step is not to launch a counter-attack. You have to ask was there intent to harm. If the first person meant no intent, they will own the original attack and apologize. If there intent, they will justify their actions. At that point, defend yourself. But as we taught the twins, if you initiate, or you defend yourself own what comes next!