“What Can I Say And Not Offend Anyone?” – Finding the Right Words To Say

There is only one Dave.

In the process of meeting new people and becoming familiar with my new work environment here at Techstars, I met Dave. Dave told me, “Remember I am the only Dave. There are two or more Davids, but I am the only Dave.”

At Techstars, everyone seems to know there are several Davids but one Dave. Why is this important? It isn’t unless your name is Dave (or David). This seems complicated when I write it out, but I have found that everyone knows the Davids from Dave. Everyone has memorized who goes by David and who goes by Dave. I have found they also know Steve from Steven or Beth from Lizz. In fact, I realized that for my entire life, in every workplace or school, people will remember who prefers to be called David or Dave. If you happen to refer to Suzy as Suzanne, she will remind you that her name is Suzy — and generally, no one is offended.

Most importantly, no one wants a rule that every David go by Dave. It goes without saying that asking every David in the world to go by Dave would be ridiculous.

Over my years working in Diversity & Inclusion, I have found that people often want a rule. They want to know: “What are the right words to say?” or “What can I say?” They want it to be simple.

Is it black or African American? Is it Latino or Latinx? For years I have tried to answer this question: “What are the D&I rules?” or “What can I say and not offend anyone?” I have colleagues who have written handbooks and developed websites to help people chose the right word. Finally, I feel like I have the right answer: there are two Davids and only one Dave.

The point is: life is complicated.

All of us have many friends, family members, and colleagues, and somehow we remember all their names. If they have a unique way of pronouncing their name we figure it out. We realize that it would be ridiculous to ask all the Davids and Daves to get together and decide on Dave or David.

We don’t tell the world we are too busy to learn everyone’s name or that it is just too complicated. Even if there is that one Dave who always gets upset if we call him David and not Dave — we respect everyone’s uniqueness and realize sometimes we will get it wrong. Issues around sexual orientation, ability, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, or race are no different. It is ridiculous to think that every Latinx, LGBTQ, or person with a disability should agree on the same term or ideology. Life is complicated.

There is a profound beauty in knowing that people can find the time to remember the Davids from the Dave. Inclusion and diversity are the same. We can respect someone’s individuality. All people have a right to who they are and what they call themselves. It is my sincere hope that as a people we can work on remembering what our friends and colleagues call themselves and how they like to be identified.


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Michael Berhane, Founder of POCIT
Jason Thompson
Jason Thompson

Jason is VP of Diversity & Inclusion at Techstars. Jason has had a long career in Diversity and Inclusion, most recently with the US Olympic Committee, and has developed award winning D&I programs for sports organizations, healthcare and higher education.

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