Dying not to offend.

Being politically correct can damage our mental health… In former years, freedom of speech was held as the most fundamental and beautiful human right. Anything could be said without fear of reprisal. If people disagreed with you, then that was okay. If it was our right to speak, it was their right not to listen. And in some way the world was in balance. But responsibility has shifted.

Today the responsibility has landed firmly and squarely on the shoulders of the speaker. We can no longer say anything that comes into our head when it's half-baked or even artistic.Because anything that we say must be filtered and tested and researched to make sure that it cannot possibly offend anyone.

Many now feel it's safer to say nothing at all than to risk saying something that could be construed negatively.

The power is all now with the listener. If there's anything they don't like it’s perfectly acceptable to accuse the speaker of all manner of sins. Founded or not. They could even be cancelled.

And we are making that okay.

The more we put the power with the listener the more they focus on the problems in what we say.

I recently spoke at a huge event with thousands of people and was on stage for around 4 hours. At the end of it the organiser rather sheepishly said that there were some people that had some feedback.

Obviously, I'm always delighted to learn so I listened as they advised me that I should have more stories about women than men. I thanked them for their feedback as I genuinely believe there is always something to learn.

What I found most interesting was that I had told more stories about women than men and yet their perception was the opposite. The reason they felt differently was that their selective attention was looking for problems and not for positives.

We have a natural in-built negativity bias where our subconscious constantly scans our environment for danger. It's part of our survival instinct.

One of the reasons that the power has suddenly become so much greater in the listener than the speaker is that we are so much more aware of what the wrong thing could sound like and therefore we listen out for it more intently. And naturally what you look for is what you will find. We look for what’s wrong and not what’s right.

When we were young, and we got eight out of ten in a maths exam we would naturally look at the two we got wrong rather than the eight we got right. And that is now happening on a global societal level.

My favourite news story of recent months was of the solar eclipse in the southern States of America. Fox News was distraught by the idea that there would be 4 minutes of darkness where more Mexicans could infiltrate their beautiful country. Rather than just wait for nightfall.

When we look for the danger it's everywhere.

As communication is such an important part of life, we should be encouraged to be able to do so freely without constantly feeling we are under threat. Talking is how we connect. It's how we share ideas. And importantly it's how we process how we feel.

So many people now are hyper-vigilant every time they open their mouths, in case they say the wrong thing. This has a massive detriment not only to people but to society.

Firstly, as an individual, being uber careful about what we say every single day is incredibly stressful and it means that overtime our already dysregulated nervous systems become even more charged. Being always on the look for potential slips makes us naturally more stressed. We need to learn to relax so that we can decrease the cortisol and adrenaline in our already over stimulated systems.

And talking used to be a way that we could do that.

But now we are even on guard when chatting with our friends in the pub in case we say the wrong thing. It also means that we only share things that we're confident about. This results in less creativity for us and for the planet.

Sharing ideas that are not popular and agitate today’s world are how we as a species and how society has developed and evolved. When we are filtering everything we say; we are only using that 5% of our conscious thinking and we can't possibly allow any of our subconscious to take part just in case something contrary pops out of our mouths.

What an incredibly dull world in which to live.

How can we possibly hope to innovate and solve this world's problems when everything needs to be so measured and calculated and controlled and sterilised. Of course, we should not go out of our way to upset; but equally it's not our responsibility to keep everyone happy.

When my five-year-old son liberally poured his drink over the table for the second time just to see what patterns it made, I told him to stop doing that because he was making me angry. Being my son, he pointed out that he couldn't possibly make me angry as only I could choose to by angry. Laughing at the way he replayed my words to me at the most opportune moment; the point landed hard.

I hope that more people take responsibility for their emotional reactions, rather than placing that burden on everyone else in their lives. We need to be able to speak freely with good intention, otherwise we're going to add to the mental health burden that this planet is already creaking under.

Our new ideas will no longer be exciting and step change but just rather dull and uninteresting. And the next generation to take on our mantle will be inherently unable to manage how they feel because every interaction will be so inert and safe. They will be unprepared to deal with anything tangential, confronting, or exciting.

I regularly hear people talking about their leaders being unrelatable and making that the leader's fault. If you take that thinking to its ultimate end, we could soon see people saying that they can only learn from somebody who is just like them. Someone of the same age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, neurodiversity, height, weight, build, accent, intolerances, blood group, music taste etc. In fact, they can only deeply connect, listen to, and then learn from somebody who is them. Unlikely they are going to learn a great deal.

Again, the burden here isn't on a leader to change who they are so they're relatable to every possible variation in their workforce; but it's for their people to learn to relate to whoever is talking regardless of who they are. There is always something to be learned. And we always have more in common then we have difference.

If we start by focusing on why we are alike maybe we'll learn to hear each other better. It may take some time for us to get there but I think a society where we can speak from the heart and not just from the head is healthy.

Creating safe spaces where we can free wheel and freestyle without the risk of judgement will certainly deliver better ideas. And if we feel as if we are too nervous about being judged at least we can let off steam by using Talk It Out to help us process our innermost thoughts verbally without any risk of being cancelled.

Because great minds think aloud.

Freedom of speech is a basic right.

And freedom to not be offended is a life skill everyone needs to learn.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko