Sunday, November 03, 2013
OMG, I can't believe I offended you
At the beginning of the summer, my wife and I took our grandsons and their friends to a weekly outdoor farmer's market and arts andcrafts fair in the South End of Boston, which hat runs from May through October. The kids loved the food trucks, the vintage goods store and the quirkiness of the crowd.
I chatted up the owner of a company called PeriodicallyInspired who was in her booth selling T-shirts, coffee mugs and other stuff that had various phrases imprinted on them drawing from letters on the periodic table. My wife bought me a black T-shirt with the letters O (for oxygen) and Mg (for magnesium) on it. Get it? OMG, the overused text shorthand for "Oh, my God" written in response to, well, something to which you'd typically respond "OMG." I thought the products and the T-shirt were clever.
It turns out, however, that I may be one of many who serve as a leading indicator that we are headed toward becoming a Godless nation.
In a recent column for The Boston Globe, Jennifer Graham, raised the issue of how we Americans have become cavalier about our use of God's name. Using OMG, she observed, is for some people "at least as vulgar as David Ortiz dropping the f-bomb at Fenway," something the Red Sox slugger did shortly after the bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line back in April. There are others, she observed, who find the word "jeez" offensive because it derives from "Jesus."
Graham adheres to what she describes as "the antiquated notion that a certain reverence and restraint is due the sacred."
I agree with Graham. It is good to be respectful of other's beliefs and not to tread on their notion of what is sacred to them.
If the intent of those using the OMG phrase was to be blasphemous or profane or to attack someone else's religion, that would be wrong. But it's a tough stance to take that OMG is any more of a misappropriation of God's name than those who invoke it as they enter into combat or a cross-country meet. Any use may offend someone.
But if I know that Graham or others are offended by something, is it wrong for me to continue doing that thing? Should I stop wearing my OMG T-shirt out of concern that I might run into Graham on the street? No more than it is wrong for me to continue wearing the leather shoes I know some friendly vegans I pass on the way to work find offensive.
If we truly want to avoid the possibility of offending anyone for everything we do, we should never leave the house. Even then, some might find that choice offensive.
The right thing is not to deliberately use a phrase or icon to persecute, silence or demean someone else. It's doubtful that OMG is any more offensive than "gadzooks" was in its day.
Without shame, I will continue to wear my OMG T-shirt and to chuckle every time I see the Ichthys fish, which began as an early Christian symbol, glued onto the back of my wife's car that has the words "N Chips" written within the body. No offense.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin