Tonight though I suddenly came up with an analogy of just how horrible what so many people are doing is, so this grew out of that.
Yep, it's another three or four hour post keeping me up way too late.
There's some bully-based triggery stuff in this post. I don't normally bother prefacing a post with such warnings, so many people have so many triggers that you're always going to miss something that seems obvious to others. But I made myself feel uncomfortable and a little ill with the first chunk of stuff I'd written, so it's probably worthy of a warning.
I've got kids. They are both inquisitive types. Tyrannosaurus Lex is at what would probably be the "why?" stage that most children go through, that magical age where every answer to a question get another, "why?"
TLex is good at asking his questions, including some detail, so it slows the repetition a bit. But it's still the endless line of questions one after another that can get pretty tiring. I've even had the circular questioning where you wind up back at the original question, and the child starts the whole series over again.
I want to try a new approach to his education though.
What would you think if, when TLex got something wrong that I thought he should understand, that I'd already explained, or that I thought was plainly obvious, I screamed at him? I would scream at him and tell him he's a bad, bad, wicked child. I'd encourage others to back me up, to yell at him as well, to call him names. Hell, we wouldn't physically assault him or anything.
If he answered back, maybe defensively because he felt a little blind-sided or attacked or something, we could just shout louder. He's already shown he's a fuckwit, so we'd be within our rights to keep at him. He's the one who doesn't want to learn. We're the good people, taking the time to try and teach him he's ignorant and horrible.
We'd just keep at him, for days if need be. Maybe till he cried for a bit. Or was quiet.
Maybe until he stopped crying and was quiet.
It wouldn't make us bad people for doing it. He's the one getting stuff wrong! Saying the wrong thing and upsetting us by just not getting it. It's his own fucking fault for being stupid and horrible. The stuff I'm trying to get across to him is basic. How can he not understand it? I've explained it but he still doesn't get it, so obviously the problem is with him. And if he asks why it's bad, I'll just yell at him and tell him "BECAUSE IT IS!"
Yeah, screaming at him until he says sorry, that's the way. Yelling at him, telling him he's a bad person, basically making him feel like the scum-sucking shit he so obviously is, that's the ticket. If he goes quiet, I'll know I've won. If he says sorry, I'll know my approach was right.
I've screamed some sense into him. I am an awesome and a good person.
At some point we've all had people in our lives who yelled at us and publically belittled us for getting something wrong. And their abuse made us better people.
Think of all the people over the years who have screamed at you for getting something wrong. How did that make you feel? Good, I bet. Did you thank them afterwards, for making you a better person? Do you look back on the experience fondly? Are you glad you learned something that way? And there's no hatred or resentment, is there? And if it was about a specific subject - history say, or maybe sports - I'm sure you love that subject now.
And it's all because a bunch of people bullied and belittled you, usually publically.
You are so blessed.
I see far too much of this happening on the internet on a regular basis. I also see it in real life, but to a lesser degree. People tend to be more polite in real life.
A hell of a lot of problems stem from ignorance. People don't know any better, so they will say or do something hideously embarrassing or disgustingly offensive, and genuinely have no clue as to why what they've said or done is bad.
I don't think too many people would disagree with me when I say that various isms - racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and so on - tend to stem from a lack of education and knowledge of the subject. Putting yourself in another person's shoes is a very difficult thing to pull off with any degree of accuracy.
A quick example. There's a very old episode of South Park where a commentator comes out with the line, "I haven't seen a Jew run like that since Poland, 1938!" A friend of mine who is Jewish thought that line was hilarious. His brother, someone with pretty much the same background and upbringing, found it incredibly offensive.
You can't possibly cover all the bases. Given individual experiences and attitudes, it's virtually impossible to cover the range of possible reactions. What we can do is to point out the stuff that is broadly at issue, and try to educate about it.
That same diversity of experience means people come from backgrounds that don't have that education. They don't know any better. If I was true to the way I was brought up, with the role models that were around me, here's a quick list of what I would believe -
- black people are okay, but not very smart
- Jews can't be trusted, they're greedy and control the world's finances
- women are generally thick, and aren't good for much besides housework, sex, and looking after the kids
- gay men like to touch little boys
Now, I think most of you know that I don't believe any of that stuff. The people I heard it from were basically just repeating what they had been told. They hadn't learned any more about those subjects, or socially it wasn't a good idea to know too much about those subjects, so they merely repeated back the same misinformation they had been given because that was pretty much the only thing they knew about it.
The reason I don't believe any of that stuff is because I had two advantages over a lot of the people I grew up around - friends from diverse backgrounds, and an open, inquiring mind.
I learned that all that stuff wasn't true from people who were smart and patient with me. I don't recall ever coming out with anything that was hugely horrible that my friends had to call me on, but I probably did. I learned by proximity, from other people's mistakes, and by asking the stupid questions and receiving answers from people who I trusted and who genuinely wanted to help me to understand.
I've learned a lot, and I still have a long way to go, but I have friends I can trust to gently educate me in the ways I need. Without people like that, I'd probably be a very different person, someone this version of me wouldn't like very much.
So when I'm on the internet, and I see the mindless bullying tactics often used by supposedly good people, it sickens and angers me.
Someone comes out with an unintentionally deplorable comment online, and what do I see happening on a regular basis? A mass attack as person after person starts in on them. Once the group mind takes hold, there's no stopping it.
If the offender realises they've misspoken, too bad, because the hive mind is not going to let them get away with this. They badger, they berate, they belittle, they break out the ists and the isms, no quarter will be given, no quarter can be given, because the offender has proven themselves beyond being allowed any sort of mercy.
The good people will see that this bad person pays. They will be made to pay publically because that will also show the world who the good people are.
The general assumption from the noble masses is that the offender is deliberately offensive. They are a horrible person and so the good must fight!
After all, it's not bullying if you know you're right and they're wrong.
If the offender asks what they've said, or why what they've done is bad, that counts for nothing. Ignorance is no excuse! If they're lucky, they'll get answers. Usually those are poorly written, accusatory in tone, and take the position that they should know better. Some will contradict one another.
Sometimes if they ask why what they did was wrong, they'll be told 'Because it is!'
This is precisely how not to make the world in any way, shape, or form a better place.
The best case scenario is that they learn nothing. The worst case scenario is you take someone who would have been open to learning from their mistakes, who could have been educated and become a better person, an ally in the cause, and you fill them with hate and resentment. That's a bloody tragedy.
Think about those times you've been picked on and bullied for something you didn't get. Did it make you a better person? Did it help you to understand the issue you were having? Did it make you want to learn more for any reason other than to make the yelling stop?
Browbeating someone into apologising for something, when they still don't understand what they did wrong, is not a victory for anyone.
What's worse is if the offender is someone who has previously shown time and time again by action, thought, and deed that they aren't a whatever-ist of any kind. One is not allowed to misspeak or misstep if one should know better. That person must also be harried and harassed just as much, if not more.
The good people, who only want everyone to be given some basic human dignity, will not allow the offender the basic human trait of having made an honest mistake. That's a dignity that cannot exist in their binary world.
So that offender too must be attacked and called on their terrible behaviour. The fact that they're probably smart enough to realise what they've done and already hate themselves for being so thoughtless isn't enough. Apologies aren't good enough, they have to crawl to make it stop.
The message all this behaviour sends is simple and clear. If you are meant to be a good person, you are not allowed to make a mistake. Your friends and allies are waiting for you to misstep and then they will go all out to publically humiliate you and paint you in the same colours as a dyed-in-the-wool bigot.
The message to someone watching is - your cause is not worth it. If this is how you treat people I think are good, then I don't want to learn to care about the things you think are important. You want understanding for the things that matter to you, but you offer none to anyone else.
Most people want to be good. They want to learn. You do everyone a disservice when you assume someone's poor behaviour stems from deliberate discrimination or an uncaring attitude. Most people genuinely don't know any better, and they would be grateful for a kind word and a pointer in the right direction.
As for the people who really do want to hurt and offend, yelling at them only gives them the attention they crave. They feed on it. Losing it with a genuine bigot is losing, full stop.
Educating is much harder than yelling. You really have to work at it. Some people are slow learners for all sorts of extremely valid reasons. They will ask the same questions again and again, still not getting it. They will make some headway and then bitterly disappoint you with something truly distressing, and still not see what they did wrong. They really want to learn and to change, but it's hard and frustrating for all concerned because they keep getting it wrong and can't see why.
If you're not prepared to fight that fight, fair enough. It's a bloody hard battle. The hours are long and the pay is crap. But don't join the hive mind, don't yell at every person who mucks up, because it really does more harm than good.
You can still make a difference. You don't have to tell the hive mind to shut up and fuck off, though that would be good. You can be the person that apologises to the offender for how shoddily they've been treated. It's a small thing, but it's humane and compassionate and it can mean a lot to someone confused and overwhelmed by the vehement reaction they've received. If you can then help point them towards some material or an educator that can explain why what they did was a problem, why people got angry, so much the better.
For those of you up for actively trying to educate, who will put in the hard work and the patience, you know why you have to keep at it, why you don't stop trying even when it seems you're getting nowhere.
You don't give up on because one day you may be there at the exact moment their eyes fill with understanding, the moment you've made a tiny part of the world that little bit better.
And you did it without shouting.