Jo Rhett (jorhett) wrote,
Jo Rhett

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Fail to disbelieve. Please.

I'm really not into the "privilege" wars (see footnote #1), however... reposted from Facebook, because LiveJournal is more appropriate for long-form content.

I am so completely sick of people replying to a well-written article by someone expressing themselves about how insults, attacks, and closeminded judgement of them have wounded them by jumping up and telling the world (1) they've never experienced it and (2) that it must not be real because of that.

That you have not experienced it does not mean that someone else has not. That you have not experienced it likely means that through gender, race, sex, class, money, or location it has either never been applied to you, or those very same privileges have allowed you to feel safe enough to discard or ignore the threat.

Even if this person is completely insane and is running scared of their nightmares... then you have benefited through having better balanced chemistry and/or more support through family and friends in your personal development. Pity or compassion is appropriate, defensiveness about things which don't harm you makes no sense at all.

There is never, not once, ever a time that it makes any sense to tell someone that they are wrong about their experiences. EVER. Seriously, there's no justification for it.

If the person is critical of a specific organization, event, etc you might step forward to say what your own experience was, and to offer a contrasting thought on how the events might be perceived. Offering your experience and thoughts is valid and relevant to the discussion.

Denying someone else's reality is not.

Believe it or not, offering an honest different perspective about an event, organization, etc can actually provide helpful and positive feedback and support to multiple parties on how to address any actual wrongs, and perceptions about events, etc. You're adding positive support into the problem space, without necessarily giving support to the perspective you disagree with. If the person is completely wrong (unlikely)... an honest positive post might help them see your perspective. Might engage comparison and contrasting instead of defensiveness.

Attacking them will make them defensive, make them angry in addition to hurt or scared. In addition, you could enhance their sense of rejection or abandonment, which is already engaged when someone feels wronged. This can in the worst case produce a desire to return harm to whatever you are defending. Even if you are right, it doesn't support your effort, it tells the person that you (and likely they'll group whatever you are defending with you) are an enemy and a threat to them.

And here's the kicker: if their experience is valid in any form, then you've placed yourself and everything you defended against facts which that person can use to justify their anger.

Seriously, you cannot win. Right or wrong, you will harm what you are defending if you attack someone's perspective.

Having seen this a thousand or more times, and never once, not once in my entire life can I find a single personal attack which denies someone else's perspective which achieved what they wanted to achieve. Just don't.

Ask yourself three questions:

1. What would I sacrifice to set aside my thoughts and believe that this person actually experienced (felt, saw, perceived, etc) what they are saying? Would it hurt me to believe them?

NOTE: I'm not saying you have to take action on that belief. I'm asking if you can suspend disbelief long enough to hear them out.

2. Can you find anything of truth in what they are saying? I can't tell you how many times I've talked to someone who ended up bitter enemies with someone else about a discussion for which they were greater than 95% in agreement! I'm not saying not to disagree. I'm asking you to acknowledge your agreements with the person too.

3. Are you certain that your life differences have not insulated you from the experiences they are having? Be honest with yourself. Have you never seen someone else be treated the way they are describing?

REMEMBER that your ability to shrug off the experience as unimportant is likely due to advantages of financial, class, more supportive upbringing, more self-assurance, you name it... there's an advantage or privilege you have that they do not which makes it silly to you, and scary or painful for them.

Perhaps, again, it's because you are "sane" and they "are not sane"... take some time to break those concepts down using these three questions. You may just find some empathy.

If you can be honest with yourself about these three questions, I believe you'll find that you can disagree with someone without invalidating their experiences.
...and better yet, you'll find yourself feeling better about yourself, and less angry as a person when you do these things.

Footnote #1:
I'm aware and constantly learning more about privileges I have had. I have lived through the contrast of not having a lot I enjoy today, and having close friends and lovers who were denied ones I acquired through no effort of my own. That contrast forever reminds me, forever shows the shadows of privilege I have gained actively through personal success, and passively through a change in class, increasing age, and reduced disparity from the norm where I live.

So I'm aware of what privileges I enjoy, although I'm always learning more.

I fully support those who fight against inherited, race, sex, gender, or class-based privilege. But there are better people to argue these points so I don't post about it often.
Tags: privilege deep-thoughts

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