Yesterday, Senses Cafe announced their much beloved sign is saying goodbye, as it is considered "offensive". The hashtags in the post tell us how they feel about it.
Everything Geraldton receives some stupid complaints. Believe me.
We usually just shake our heads and hit 'archive'.
But I'll never forget the day we received our first complaint about the Senses cafe sign. It was in May of this year, and Senses, as is their custom, had a little joke for people to enjoy while sipping their coffee. It was a joke about how people say they hate Crocs (the sandals), but seeing the company was worth $2billion, some of you "sonsabitches" must be lying.
I shook my head when I saw the complaint. This is what it read:
"I wanted to have breakfast at Senses this morning but was too taken aback by their kerbside sign displaying profanity! I spoke to the Manager who was patronising and dismissive and told me there was nothing wrong with it and 'each to their own'.
I love a laugh as much as anyone but my kids deserve better than to be over inundated with profanity when the English language is so rich with other more eloquent and expressive options.
I had to make a formal complaint to Centre Management and yet I still doubt it will change anything.
Since when did it become ok to do that? If I went I the shop and said "I would like to order breakfast, b!tches" it wouldn't be acceptable now would it!
Work on your Customer Service Geraldton, it's downright disgraceful"
That's right folks. This person felt the need to go to centre management to complain about a joke about crocs because it had the word "sonsabitches", and then request that EG share the complaint to our tens of thousands of readers.
I get that you probably don't call your daughter a bitch.
But fun fact: Lots of millennials call each other "bitch" in much the same way that a 70 year old man would slap his mate on the back and say "how's it goin' you ol' bastard?!" Does he literally mean "how are you, you who are aged and conceived out of wedlock"? No. Is he using the term "bastard" to convey an insult or slur? No. It's the English language. It evolves. Words have multiple meanings in different contexts.
If you're offended by that, you're the one with the problem, not the 70 year old Vietnam vet talking to his mate.
I often use my wife as a barometer to see if things are over the line, so I showed her the photo with the Crocs joke. She laughed and nodded muttering "so true, so true". Then I read the complaint to her. She was as shocked as I was that someone was so petty that they felt the need to complain about this joke.
I put off responding to the complainer for a few weeks as I knew if I shared her thoughts she'd probably be crucified by our readers anyway.
What's so bad about swearing anyway?
A few weeks ago I was walking along with my eight year old, and we overheard someone swearing. My son pointed it out to me, knowing it's not behaviour we normally encourage.
I sat him down, and bought him a juice. "Ezra, there's something I need to tell you about swearing," I said.
He looked at me, as though he already knew that swearing was bad, and he didn't need to have it explained further.
"There's nothing technically wrong with swearing. I've taught you not to say certain words, because there are some people who live among us who are upset when they hear those words. But lots of people aren't offended by those words at all, and they don't have a problem using them. And there's nothing wrong with people who swear. You're not better than them if you don't swear. What's more important than whether you swear or not is what's in your heart, and how you treat people."
I gave him an example.
"If you said to your little brother, 'Israel, I think you are a horrible person, you are not smart, you're ugly, and I will be happy when you die,' you haven't technically sworn have you?"
"No," said Ezra.
"But you were horrible to your brother, and you made him feel really bad about himself, didn't you?"
Ezra nodded. He could see where I was going with it.
"But if you walked in and said 'Israel you effing legend, that was effing brilliant!' you've just sworn, haven't you?" He nodded, eyes narrowing. "But you've actually been really nice to him!"
He asked a couple of questions, then explained it back to me. He understood.
I don't care if my son "swears" or not to be honest, I care that he's kind to people. I explained a little about our culture, how you still need to watch the words you choose depending on the company you're in, and he seemed to get it.
And now my eight year old understands the point of not swearing. He hasn't started swearing or anything. But he's not going to grow up with some narrow minded binary idea that specific words are intrinsically bad or good. I'd rather he understood we all have the power to make others feel good or bad with our words. Some words were perhaps originally created to hurt people. But words often get co-opted for a different purpose. And if they're making people happy, who cares?
And that's why I can't understand why someone felt the need to complain about the Senses sign. Clearly, these staff members are going above and beyond the call of duty to make people smile while they sip their lattes. They're putting a little bit of happiness into Geraldton each day through that sign. It's become something people look for. It should probably be heritage listed. That sign added value to the entire Northgate shopping complex.
For Senses to then be attacked by self righteous zealots who are so insulated from the real world that they lack the common decency just to shrug and keep walking if they don't like the joke, is crazy.
I'm sure the person who lodged the complaint with centre management thought that's what Jesus would want them to do.
After complaining about that sign, did they make sure the news agency stopped selling pornography? Then did they make sure centre management stopped Coles from selling the local paper with prostitute ads next to kindergarten enrolment notices? Then did they complain to the fashion stores for all the sexually suggestive posters? Of course not. They knew the most pressing matter they needed to deal with that day was a joke with the word 'bitches' in it.
The problem with this brand of religious zealotry is its inconsistency and hypocrisy.
If the standard for removing something is "I'm offended", then society will never try anything new.
Life would be boring if we only created art and products that were guaranteed never to offend.
Having grown up in churches I know these "offended" people well. They are professionally offended, all the time. If the pastor hasn't offended them by saying something they disagree with, then they're offended that Janice didn't give them enough eye contact on Sunday. They're offended that the new guy sat in their seat at church. They're offended that kids don't play in the street any more. Then they're offended that there are too many kids in their street playing Pokemon Go. They're offended that the local coffee shop didn't have their exact same sense of humour. These people usually need to go and get a job, stop being busy bodies, stop getting their thrills off of killing other people's fun, learn how people in the real world actually live, and stop being shocked that some people see the world differently to them.
If people changed the question they asked themselves from "does that offend me?" to "is that hurting anyone?" maybe we wouldn't be wasting so much time banning signs, debating marriage equality and fighting to remove criminal conviction records for people who were gay in the 70's.
But to Senses Cafe, for all the wonderful signs over the years, thank you.
And here's some funny street art we spotted the other day in town. Please don't be offended.