(A terrible event happened last night in Santa Barbara, California. There are a great many issues that stem for this single incident. This post is not a direct response, but more a collection of thoughts.
I would very much appreciate you reading it in its entirety. I promise it will not be long.)
Words Have Power
The saying “all talk and no action” is inaccurately disparaging if taken literally. Words can transform ideas into reality, mobilize populations, and are responsible for progressing entire bodies of human learning and knowledge.
But the best thing about words is that there are so many, in so many combinations, that it’s hard to wrap your head around how much you will never know. It’s a good form of humility to learn to enable you to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know something.
But this post isn’t about what you don’t know. It’s about what you already know.
Some words I don’t like. They can be loaded with meanings that are outdated or skewed or wrong.
One of those words is gender. I use it because it has meaning, but don’t like it because its meaning can imply something where I intended nothing. When something is called a “gender issue” what pops into most people’s heads is not what gender issues actually are. Most people think of gender as binary and when gender issue is mentioned the meaning that is delivered is “women’s issue.”
The same can be said for ethnicity, sexuality, et cetera. When we say “racial issues” what people think is “ethnic minority issues.”
The first lesson is that words have power, and you should learn to harness words lest they harness you.
Aside: There’s a point about power (and privilege) structures in there, but that isn’t within the scope of this post. It’s difficult to have the strength of introspection to see when you have it good. It’s much easier to identify when life throws you a curve ball.
Many of the problems women suffer from involve men in a central way. Men are perpetrators, victims, and bystanders and it affects everyone.
Aside: The point is not that any group suffers less, equally, or more than any other. The argument is that we live together and it affects us all.
The second lesson is that you shouldn’t be a bystander. I don’t mean you need to write blog posts, start campaigning, start organizing, or anything on that scale. All these issues, all these -isms, are pervasive. All you have to do is this: don’t let these wrongs slide.
When they happen you might be terrified. You got up, had a good breakfast, and life’s been relatively nice. Then something happens. Maybe it happened to you personally. Maybe a co-worker, a relative, or a friend says something. It’s bad and you know it’s bad.
If and when that happens, say something against it.
They say bravery is being scared of doing something but doing it anyway. It is easier to crusade on the internet surrounded by like-minded individuals. When you’re physically in a group of a dozen people and one person says something, and ten other people laugh, that’s when it gets hard.
Aside: It’s easy for me to say this. I’m a large man and I’ve made people step backward just by frowning at them. I also have a natural tendency toward argumentation.
I’m not saying anyone is a coward for not speaking out. There are also situations when it simply may not be safe to, and discretion can be the better part of valor. But I am saying this is how it has to happen for the situation to improve, and I mean this on a global scale.
If pressed I could give concrete examples of people admitting that, when confronted with these sorts of comments in real life they don’t speak up for themselves. Please speak up for others even if you won’t speak up for yourself. It can help to have someone to be brave for. Leverage that.
Aside: I’m saying “real life” as if the internet isn’t real life. It’s definitely real, but the internet also acts as a barrier to insulate us from recognizing human beings as actual human beings. Facebook has mostly put to bed the notion that it is anonymity that makes people more confrontational. It is the insulation, the physical separation, the internet provides that promotes such confrontation. Car doors and a few feet of space between highway lanes operate in the same fashion.
The converse, of course, is that in “real life” we are less likely to be confrontational – say, in the defense of another human being in an uncomfortable situation.
Diffusion of responsibility is a real issue. The Bystander effect is a real issue. They’re why people can be left dead near a highway without report for hours despite hundreds of cars whizzing by in full view. They’re why, outside my apartment building a few weeks ago only two people, myself and a woman, investigated a young boy screaming for his mother at night.
It’s why in an emergency situation with many people you should point and call by name or otherwise indicate specifically an individual from whom you require assistance, e.g. “You, the man in the red jacket – call 911!”
It’s a complicated social issue. Not all incidents of non-help can be attributed (only) to those two factors. There are many, many others.
The long and the short of it is this: words aren’t just thoughts in your head or scribbles on a piece of paper or pixels on a monitor. Words also come from your lips and they can help people.
Thanks for reading,