In the past, I didn’t do as well or as right by my community as I should have. I want to prevent that from happening in the future.
I often hesitate to single out specific individuals or particular actions but always end up feeling that I would be ethically and personally remiss if I were to say nothing at all. Trying to say nothing was a strategy that has often backfired on all fronts, and I offer my unequivocal apology for the odd forms of venting in which I have engaged on various matters over the years in lieu of directness. It’s too late, in some ways, for much else other than to talk about some things that I’ve learned via observation and experience.
The lessons below are hardly ones that I have fully learned myself. If anything, they’re reminders to myself. In that spirit, here are my hopes for ways in which to do better. I pledge the following.
To treat people based on who they are rather than how I feel about what they said in this particular instance.
When called out, especially in a tone that doesn’t feel good to me and saying something which with I disagree (at least initially), I usually want to assume the worst. It’s a natural reaction thanks to having been unfairly and wildly disproportionately targeted for criticisms that do nothing but provoke (and sometimes by people who claimed to be on my side or even to love me). At the same time, not everyone is out to harm me just because I don’t like what they have to say or how they say it.
If the person is besties with, say, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (as in a certain person named after a certain incident), there is good reason to dismiss them as a bad-faith actor. However, if they are unknown to me, I should investigate. If they are known to me as a good-faith actor, I should give them the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true if I am — to use a word I try not to overuse — privileged over them.
The rest of the pledges assume that the other person is a good-faith actor at the very least, and a member of my community at best.
To wait until I can respond compassionately before I say anything.
Sometimes, people who call out don’t take the most approachable tone. Part of the process of growing into a better person is to let myself take a breath. My rule is to initially respond with a neutral acknowledgement:
I hear you. Thank you for giving me something to think about. I’ll respond when I am able.
This ensures that the person knows that I am not ignoring or dismissing them, but also that I have the time necessary to parse the issue adequately and respond as carefully as possible. Sometimes, all they want is an acknowledgement.
I’m sure that this sounds like a deceptive or manipulative strategy on at least some level. I have come to believe that the fetishization of blurted-out, instantaneous reactions as more “true” than more thoughtful responses leads to a society that is not only less kind, but in actuality less honest.
I’ll use an example from my clumsy bodily life. If I have accidentally been stepping on someone’s foot throughout an evening and they shove me away, I’ll be in no state to respond to them appropriately. In that moment, I would feel indignant that deliberate force was used to return a mistaken action. No matter how much I’m told that I did something wrong, I’ll feel that I’m being unfairly treated. It’s the automatic response but hardly reflects my true feelings. There is nothing wrong with taking my time and doing legwork before responding.
To avoid non-abstract comparisons.
I’m hardly alone in that I navigate much of my social life via pattern recognition, so I might want to say “This sounds exactly like [troll]” or “You are reacting just like [hater]” because that’s what I am thinking. Intuitively, an analogy can feel like a really great way to explain myself to people. Sadly, I’ve found that in an already-heated situation, the other person will likely interpret the analogy as unfavorably as possible.
Related is the inclination to attempt to empathize with those who call me out by drawing parallels to the oppression and abuse I’ve face in my own life. While this might sound like a way to build trust and empathy, it can sound like I am trying to compete with those who are calling me or or compare them to those who have hurt me.
In addition, lingering on either or both of the kinds of comparisons might cause me to unwittingly transfer my strong negative feelings from the unrelated party to the related one.
To remember and take responsibility for who I am in my response — including the parts of me that I’d rather not consider or be considered.
This is not as much of a platitude as it sounds. Considering how I usually phrase things, present myself, and take things on is essential in ensuring that I’m received as close to the manner in which I intended as possible. I should also consider how I am usually received and perceived by my audience. It may not be my fault that people see me a way in which I do not see myself, but as someone with a platform, I cannot forget that such might be the case.
I might think of myself as a girl with a keyboard and fast fingers that directly connect to her big mouth, but other people think of me as a speaker, writer, and leader (however relatively minor). I have some level of influence, like it or not, and it’s up to me to own that and act like I have it.
To use my community connections for good.
It can be hard to perceive myself the way others do or to keep up with everyone and everyone. That’s why I have my community. At the same time, the people I know might not want to become involved. I try asking for assistance in an explicitly expectation-free way:
You’re a thoughtful person and know about [specific issue]. I was recently told that I messed up on it and I would like to explore the matter. If you are open to helping me to understand more (or if you can think of someone else who might be able to help instead), please let me know. If not, that’s fine. I hope this isn’t intrusive, and that you know we’re cool either way.
To be realistic in terms of my expectations.
Unlike the other pledges, this one mostly has to do with being the caller-outer rather than the call-ee. It’s unrealistic of me to expect everyone to respond immediately and in exactly the way I would like them to, especially since I am opinionated and tend to surround myself with people who are similarly strong-minded.
To err on the side of opposing oppression.
Even if I don’t see why a certain word or action is problematic, I’d rather do less harm than more. It’s hardly a slippery slope when I am dealing with truly good-faith actors and/or members of my community — even if I feel they are more privileged than I am (I have written up a personal example here). I’d rather not use a word that I like or avoid positively referencing something I enjoy than needlessly hurt other people, especially when they are less privileged than I am on the matter.
I am sure many of you will want to respond to this. I’m sure there will be disagreement. Instead of using my usual analogy of girding my loins (which implies battle), I will instead ask one thing: that when you say your piece, you remember that I am explicitly inviting good-faith actors to help me to improve as a person.