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Free Speech
By: James Claire
In a world gone nuts with political correctness, almost everything I think, do and say these days can be taken the wrong way.

Have you ever found yourself working for someone who oozes insensitivity? Their sensitivity, or lack thereof, often appears to be a deep-seated trauma from childhood or a mental condition which indicates that I'm biased against their disposition.

What's more, you can't mention their nationality without being accused of stereotyping, even if it relates to a trait of almost everyone from that country. I am, though, at fault for realising the stereotype, however!

Go so far as to mention their homeland and there are shouts of demographic homophobia and political correctness these days. Apparently I can't imitate the accent either for fear of being harangued for engaging in ethnic discrimination. In fact, who am I to even assume I might have been traumatised by their actions?

So, what are we supposed to do in this crazed world of the unspeakable?

When I was a child at school I was renowned for being able to spot the quirks and idiosyncrasies of other students. Today when I do the same, a large cast of senior management half laugh and the remainder just cringe. But if we can't laugh at ourselves who can we laugh at, right!

Even when I'm being serious I seem to be in trouble. I'm a white guy in a fruit salad world. I work with multiple ethnicities. My new senior manager is African-American, yet when he enters the office and I state that he seems to be in a dark mood I find myself kicked under the table and reprimanded after the meeting.

When I was young I was called the black sheep of the family; is it wrong to use the same term in the office these days? I can't win! If I ignore my boss I'm being intolerant, ignorant and insensitive. If I mention the issue, I'm being racist.

Later the same day we head to a meeting of consultants where I spontaneously greet the room, "Good afternoon guys." Abruptly I am informed that women are not guys. Has everyone lost their sense of humour? Must everyone be addressed individually? Are we that insecure in the 21st century?

Then again, what to address as well? If I assume a woman over a certain age is married and greet her as Mrs I am told she is a Miss. Why do men have just one prefix? Why is it my problem what likes and dislikes a person has in their personal life, when it comes to how I treat them at work anyway?

Should I greet the next meeting I attend with, "Good morning all persons of individual persuasion?" Work and business are hard enough, but I truly feel like dying when I get caught in the politically correct tidal wash and spun into circles for my words. The meetings continue throughout the day. Who says being a consultant is fun?

One training room has a blackboard, another a whiteboard, but I feel ill at ease to use either or to tell the participants in the group where to write in case I'm perceived to be ethnically offensive. Write on the floor for all I care! Boards don't exist; the floor is universal and trodden on by everyone - which is just how I feel by lunch time!

In the cafeteria, issues continue. The lady serving the food is cross-eyed. When she asks me if I want some food, I'm not sure if she is referring to the beef on the left or the potatoes on the right. So, I just smile and say yes and end up with a plate of Brussels sprouts.

In my childhood my father used phrases and words such as mental home, handicapped, retarded, but these days we are meant to be the blind ones, not noticing differences. In future I won't look at other people at all. If I'm asked what am I looking at, "An angel" will be my answer.

I do understand that in the 70s and 80s we were, perhaps, a little insensitive, but if we become too scared to talk to one another, are we not building a world of intolerance again? Free speech has been fought over countless times; yet, it would seem in the 21st century the one thing we have lost is the ability to speak freely without offending someone.