The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Monday, February 06, 2006

Nick's Law of Offense 

I'm not exactly sure why, but writing this post brought the phrase "I'm sorry you feel that way" to mind. I know for a fact, that on reading that very phrase , one of my sisters will get a cold shiver down her spine. Another of my sisters will predictably go into some sort uncontrollable fit, while the third sister will deny that this phrase has any special meaning. My mother would probably just sigh in that special way she does, if she ever read my blog to begin with (which thankfully she doesn't). The funniest thing is that each of them knows exactly how the other will react (except for sister number three who wouldn't get this at all). It's funny how a single phrase can cause such strong reactions, so predictably.

I haven't often talked about my father here, except in small references that only my family might pick up. But this I think merits posting about. "I'm sorry you feel that way" was one of his favorite phrases that he used with the entire family. He even had a special voice that he used, with a special tone and metre to it. When he royally screwed with you in some way, and you got upset with him because of it, that is what he said. It was his little passive aggressive way of pushing all the blame back on you. To him, your feelings were all your fault, not his. He didn't do anything to cause them you see, and he wasn't about to deal with them. Instead, you simply reacted incorrectly to his brilliance, and you needed to change. I'm not sure whether he still uses the phrase... I haven't talked with him in about three years now. But the last time we did talk, I distinctly remember him using it on me.

I think my angry post regarding politically correct feelings suddenly brought this to mind because, in a way, I was probably thinking like him. You have no idea how incredibly difficult this is to admit. Of all the people in the world I do not want to become, it is that man. A few years ago, I would have outright denied the similarity between the responses... but I've grown past all that... or at least I think I have. Instead I have to somehow reconcile my honest belief that all this politically correct outcry really is crap, with my belief that my father was a passive aggressive asshole who played mind games with you and abandoned me after my parents divorced.

So what is the difference? Because I'm an engineer (and yes, so was my father)... I tend to think better in mathematical terms. So to help put all this in perspective, I've developed a new equation to govern the acceptable amount of offense that people are allowed have to any given statement. For the time being, I'll simply call it "Nick's Law of Offense":

"Offense is proportional to the magnitude of the offending statement, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two people." Or written symbolically:


O is the size of the offense that can be felt by a person. This is the maximum amount of offense that can be felt.
S is the universal sensitivity constant. I'm still working out the size of this.
m is the magnitude of the offending statement.
d is the distance between the offending statement, and the person who is feeling the offense.

In the case of d, this is not necessarily the physical distance. This is really the distance of the relationship between the offender and offended. For instance, if my father were to somehow read this post from California, and tell me "I'm sorry you feel that way" over the phone, d would be the same as if he were to do this to my face. On the other side of the coin, if a random person were to create a political cartoon not necessarily directed at you by name, but more towards your religion, d would be much larger because the distance between the artist and the person viewing the art is must larger. In this way, even very offensive statements (where m is large) can quickly be found to be only mildly offensive, or even hardly offensive at all as d increases in size.

I hope this has cleared all this up for you. I think that if everyone were to simply follow "Nick's Law of Offense" when reading people's public statements, and gauge their reactions accordingly, the world would be a much simpler more peaceful place.


Too bad S is always variable and never constant.

  Posted at February 06, 2006 12:59 PM by Blogger justacoolcat  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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