Blaise Tapp: The new challenges of the 21st century

Paying a compliment should come with a users' handbook.
Paying a compliment should come with a users' handbook.
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There is an argument that people living in 21st century Britain have it easier than our ancestors ever did.

We stopped burning witches centuries ago and it is a long time since a child worker last lost an arm while at work in a cotton mill but we still face a multitude of challenges that our great great grandparents never did.

One of the biggest challenges we face today is minding our ps and qs. While I am not going to embark on a verbose rant about the ills of political correctness (to do so would be as unfashionable as Millifandom or dungarees), it is worth pointing out that I am not sure what I can say without offending at least someone. I know I am not alone.

Take the case of the two high flying legal eagles who find themselves at the heart of an intense national debate following an unfortunate online spat on LinkedIn of all places.For the uninitiated LinkedIn is the place where millions of people the world over gild the lily about their careers and qualifications. It is the social media equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses.

The unlikely controversy with this particular social media platform came when an eminent barrister, a chap with the lot including a double-barrelled surname, complemented a much younger lawyer on the photograph she used on her LinkedIn page. The unwanted subject of Mr Double Barrel’s comments – he said her photograph was stunning – blasted back online that his ‘objectification’ of her was beyond the pale.

Cue a mediastorm which has seen both parties subjected to intense scrutiny and prompted a debate about what is objectification. Is paying a member of the opposite sex a compliment on their appearance always inappropriate? Of course not but paying a compliment should come with a users’ handbook because it is a minefield – as Mr Double Barrel found out to his cost. Certainly this chap who, as a barrister should be an expert on how to use the right words and when to use them, failed miserably. Telling someone who you have hitherto never had contact with that their interweb picture is the best you have ever seen is not the ideal opening gambit. But sexist? I think not, more misguided and incredibly clumsy. Also the lawyer on the receiving end could do with a crash course on how to use social media as I am sure she never expected nor wanted the fallout which has followed her broadside.

She would have been much better sending him a private message of admonishment or, even better, quietly breaking their fledgling link, a connection it has to be said that she initiated. The fact this chap is 57 and lived the best part of half a century without social media might have something to do with his abject failure to make a good impression. It is a lesson that many of us do with learning about many aspects of modern life: from when is it appropriate to stand up or open a door for a lady or when to say thanks to another motorist for giving way.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in recent years that there is seemingly an entire generation out there seeking to take offence at almost anything.