I live at a crossroads.
On one side, there is the life I have built for myself. I fought to be educated, even though I came from little means and was told people like me (poor, woman, etc) don’t go far. I built a career in a new field and found offshoots and tiny niche corners that suited my skills. I pushed myself to think outside of the box and question everything – status quo, paradigms, my bosses 😉 And it worked out pretty well, if I don’t say so myself.
On the other side of the crossroads is where I came from – my family, both born to and chosen. They do not choose to question everything, as everything seems fine to them. Sure it could be better, but that sounds difficult, so they just deal. Or maybe their situation is fine but hurting someone else – sucks to be them then. Conflict makes them uncomfortable, yet they always seem to find themselves in it somehow, wringing their hands and praying for something or someone to make it different for them.
My identity was formed by (and opposed to) the latter. Even though I do not lead a similarly flavored life as my families, I love them dearly and use them often for perspective.
So since I was always so different, I got made fun of a lot. Like from everyone, always. I am pretty sure I am on the autism spectrum, albeit in the higher functioning area. And I think that spectrum afforded me some protection from the social anxiety that was being forced on me all the time. Whether that was the reason that one of my career offshoots was community management, I do not know. For whatever reason, though, I am drawn to social interactions, especially more heated ones, and I try to work to help those in the tension see perspective, reality, and hopefully, compromise.
Remember “Sticks & Stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you”?
They don’t say that anymore, because they know it’s not true. Most people ARE hurt by words. And it’s not because they are snowflakes or sheltered by their religion or community. It’s because mean words hurt feelings. And feelings matter, as all my licensed clinical social workers friends implore my robot brain to believe.
Last night I posted a picture of me and my old black pug on my Facebook wall to commemorate the 10 years I have had him. One of my family members innocently made a joke appropriating a social justice movement. In the life I’ve built, I have acquire so many amazing friends and acquaintances, many of whom have progressive ideologies. As such, the remark offended and garnered a response. Ever the community manager, I jumped in to explain to the family member that I understood the innocence of the post, but that innocence doesn’t remove the sting of the insult to many. He apologized for the slight, but instead of removing the comment, decided to leave it me to remove it.
Then I went sleep. I hadn’t slept well in a while, so I slept in late. And I woke up to scores of messages on every messaging channel I’m on.
Apparently an old friend of mine from high school commended my tact at handling the situation by hurling a couple detailed insults at my family member. Then my family member, clearly offended by the insults, threw more pointed ones back at my old friend. Then a another friend jumped in. Then another family member piped in, with threats of being more racist and offensive than anyone, as a ploy to stop the flame war (I’ll never understand this tactic). That was coupled with multiple pleas from yet another family member, begging me to delete it all.
But the thing is – EVERYONE could have deleted their comments. Noone’s hands were tied behind their backs. Even if you literally couldn’t control your fingers from typing the initial offensive remarks, and you can’t bring yourself to apologize for your offense, you can ALWAYS delete your own content and take that small level of accountability for your actions. But they all put it on me to manage. So to borrow an idiom, I’ll bare that cross. I deleted the entire subthread.
We have always lived in volatile emotional times. Many disenfranchised groups are now getting their concerns amplified louder than ever before, so it just feels to many like the cacophony is louder. But they were always there. It’s not new. What’s new is some groups are now hearing it and upset that they have to hear it.
Change takes so much time. And not being an idealist or optimist, I think it’s a maddening amount of time. But I surround myself with idealists and optimists who assure me that the greater good is worth fighting for, even if you never see the resolution. But you know what happens along the way – fighting, arguments, insults, vile humanity.
The only thing you can do it take it in stride. You are not going to make the bigots in your family stop being bigoted, but ignoring them is not going to make you feel better either. Speak up, remind people of theirs and your humanity. Be calm, but tenacious.
But more than anything. Don’t say or type insults. There is NOTHING good that comes from them. If you accidentally do, take accountability and apologize and/or remove the offense as soon as you can. Delegating that to others is an act of cowardice. Wiping your hands clean of the situation without owning your role or by pointing out that THEY did something bad too, isn’t a mature way of dealing with a situation. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending it’s not happening is not a mature choice either.
Own your words. Because they can hurt. If you chucked a rock out of your yard while doing yard work and it hit someone in the face, you would feel bad and apologize and do whatever you could to help, even if you didn’t mean to hit them (I am not even dealing with you people who wouldn’t). Treat errant words the same. The hospital bills are lower and all you have to spend is a bit of your pride.
(And to further the analogy, if the person you accidentally hit in the face then threw another rock back at you and hit you, you are still at fault for the initial rock – these are elementary school rules you learn and should be teaching your kids. Try to follow them yourselves)