Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Knowing What To Say & Where To Say It

“Crossing the line” is a common expression in society today.

It’s heard in politics. “He crossed the line saying we should do away with Social Security.”  It’s heard on sportscasts. “The coach crossed the line on what he just did to his players!” And in stand-up comedy , “Oh my gosh, I’m afraid she crossed the line on that one, about a pig, a rolling pin and her mother-in-law!”

What about you? Did you ever cross the line at a business meeting, a religious gathering or a family event? Most of us have at some point in our lives. It taught us a lesson, and hopefully, it didn’t do too much damage.

So how do you know were the line is? No one draws it on the ground for you. You’re just expected to know, if you’re an adult, what you can and can’t say and do.

In the past there were guidelines such as: “Don’t talk about politics, religion or sex.” What? Are you kidding? Turn on the TV or radio. Check out radio talk shows. Surf the internet and blogs and they overflow with religion, politics and sex. Religious groups discuss cross-gender and homosexuality. Kids in school discuss politics. Politicians debate and discuss religion, everything from the Muslims in Afghanistan, to the Jews in Israel and the Christians in Korea. (South Korea has the largest Christian church in the world!) Do we not discuss these things?

What’s the penalty for “crossing the line?”  Oh, that’s simple—you offend someone! That’s it! Someone hears what you said or sees what you did and they are offended. Big deal! Oh, it is a big deal if you “offend” your biggest client, or your mother-in-law. It can be a huge issue in international relations and diplomacy if the people of one country offend another country. Wars have resulted when people were offended.

Now chances are, your crossing the line antics won’t cause a war—but it could cost you and cost you dearly.

If in reading this you expected to find a simple answer, I say to you, “Nay-Nay.” There isn’t a simple answer, mainly because what could be offensive to one person isn’t offensive to another, or ironically that very same “offended” person wouldn’t be offended in a different situation. Foul language used by a Sunday School teacher in a religious setting could offend a 17-year-old boy. That same foul language used by his high school football coach during practice wouldn’t raise his eyebrow a millimeter! Oh, did I offend you with millimeter instead of a fraction of an inch? See how vague that line location is?

Now let's look at suggestions. As a professional speaker who’s been in front of over half a million people, the guidelines have always been that I wouldn’t do or say anything I wouldn’t do or say if my two wonderful daughters were sitting in the front row. Nowadays, I add to that, imagining my four grandchildren sitting there with them.

That’s a very clear line and fairly easy not to cross. You need your own line markers in the important areas of your life.

Another example—Blue Comedy. Raw and raunchy funny stuff peppered with every sexual example imaginable and every dirty word you’ve ever heard and some you haven’t. But it’s OK—the line is clear. That comedian has a reputation for that kind of stuff. There is no line. Most of their audience isn’t offended. They prepared themselves for raw and they got it. Yet, the biggest paychecks in comedy go to “clean” comedy. Yes the “G” and “PG” rated comedians like Brian Regan, Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan  don’t get close to that line! If they did they would “offend” with even a tippy toe over the line.

What you can also do is lighten up a bit, lower your “I’m offended” monitor. Work at being even more tolerant. As a society we’ve gotten so uptight and so protective of our lines. Remember it’s a land of free speech. Each one can legally say almost anything. It’s not always easy, but think of the alternative—restrictive speech, banned words, sensored writing and burned books.

Let's just agree, yes, there are lines not to cross. They vary in location based on time and place, and yes, you can lower your “I’m offended” monitor just a little bit and, most of all, work at thinking more correctly who you’re speaking with and where their line might be. In the days when 70% of adults smoked, the thoughtful ones would say: “Would you mind if I smoke?” They were looking for the line! When in doubt ask! If you don’t, then you’re a stupid, self-centered, egotistical jerk!

Oops, guess I crossed the line there, because you were expecting me to close with… MAKE it a great day!