Have you ever said the wrong thing? If so, welcome to the club. My first experience in saying the wrong thing occurred when I was hired to give a presentation on autism spectrum disorders at a university where I had never worked.
I went and talked. At one point I talked about something called facilitated communication. It involves a facilitator "helping" an autistic person type.
The method seemed to produce miracle cures. Suddenly, severely impaired autistic teens communicated like university graduates. Studies showed, though, that the autistic person was paying no attention to the typing and did not contribute to it. The facilitator, consciously or not, was the one communicating by moving the hands of the impaired person.
When I explained the failure of the method, the students stopped making any sound. It was scary.
I took a break, during which I asked a student what had happened.
She said the course instructor, who was present, had extolled facilitated communication in the class session before.
Whoops. I had discredited the instructor by telling the truth.
My next experience with saying the wrong thing occurred when I was invited to talk to a church group of middle-teen girls. One thing I suggested to them was not to get pregnant. The women running the group became visibly agitated. One said to me there was nothing wrong with getting pregnant. I replied that it is not a good thing for a high school student, but later it could be OK. I was never invited back.
Third example: I was invited by a school principal to speak to a group of new year 12 girls and their parents because they were tense about the stress-packed year that lay ahead.
I told them that there are many ways for a girl to succeed in life that do not require a high HSC score. I gave the example of Michelle Jenneke, an Australian hurdler. She never won an Olympic medal, but she became world-famous for a sexy warmup routine she did. I quoted Australia's own AC/DC on it being a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.
The parents were polite, but they did not want their daughters to be sexy or to rock. I was never asked back.
I have caused social mayhem here and there. No wonder I am rarely invited to give a talk.
Still, I wouldn't change a thing I said.
John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.