A friend of mine was recently telling me about a dinner party she just attended. One of the guests was a woman she hadn’t met before, as she lived in another state. Over dinner, the woman addressed the table and asked, “No one here is religious, right? I don’t want to offend anyone.” Before anyone had a chance to say something, she launched into a story about her friend accepting Jesus as her personal saviour and how amusing she thought that was. My friend was unimpressed. She herself is not particularly religious, but thought it was in bad taste to disrespect those who wanted to practice religion, so long as they weren’t harming anyone. Everyone at the table merely flashed a tight grin and nodded.
If you think something you’re going to say is going to cause offense—especially in a social setting with people you don’t know well—the choice is clear: Don’t say it! Just because the people you’re sitting with aren’t overtly gay or Muslim or liberal or whatever doesn’t mean they won’t take offense to whatever off-color anecdote or joke you’re about to make. At worst, you’ll start an argument. At best, you’ll have branded yourself as bad company.
I’m a firm believer in freedom of speech, but as an image and etiquette consultant, I have to urge you to be mindful of what you say. Consider the recent “Duck Dynasty” controversy, or the anti-gay sentiments expressed by the new “Bachelor.” If you don’t want to find yourself on the hot seat, think of something a bit more civil to say.