April 2nd, 2014Friends Don’t Let Friends Be Ignorant Asshats
A few weeks back, after we released The Day, I was approached about writing a little something on my journey from ignorant douchebag to slightly-less-ignorant douchebag. Seems like a good topic to start off this brain dump thingy, so I’m more than happy to oblige.
Now, before we get started, you should probably play the game and read the post-mortem for context, if you haven’t already. Or don’t. Whatever.
I suppose in order to explain how I got to where I am, we need to establish where I come from. So there we go:
I’m an introvert (an INFJ personality, if you trust that kinda thing), so while I can be very active, social, and outgoing, I need and spend a lot of time by myself. Even when I am out and about, I like to hang back and observe rather than actively engage, especially when it comes to new situations. Once they’re familiar and comfortable, or I’m drunk, you probably won’t have an easy time getting me to shut up, but until then I usually study my surroundings to get a feel for them, understand them, understand the rules and act accordingly.
The reason for that, I guess, is that I don’t have the best sense for social norms and proper behavior. They don’t make sense to me and confuse me, and every time I think I’m getting the hang of it, people act, react, and interpret my actions differently than I thought they would. But other than the occasional bout of frustration over my inability to make myself understood, this doesn’t bother me much. The spectator position is my natural habitat and I’m comfortable there. It also comes with a particular advantage.
You see, while I never really learned how to be part of social situations, I learned a lot about them. I developed an understanding of their inner workings, as well as how people work, who they are at their core, what they think and feel and say without actually saying anything. A friend of mine once told me that she often felt like I was still listening long after she had stopped talking. With that, I don’t think it’s possible to not feel compassion for your fellow human beings, but recognizing your ability to see and instinctively understand things other people don’t can also make you pretty damn cocky.
This is where the problems begin. If you think you understand and know everything there is to know, you will eventually stop paying attention and dismiss anybody who tries to tell you differently, which, thanks to logical fallacies, false equivalencies, and a multitude of other techniques to derail and subvert an argument, isn’t very hard to do. It’s so easy, in fact, that you can be a huge fucking idiot and not even notice. And if you’re young and enjoy certain privileges, chances are that you are being exactly that.
Checking My Privilege
I am a straight, white, cis, upper middle class, twentysomething manchild. I had access to a good education and was smart enough to pass without putting in any effort whatsoever (I was just a ‘C’ student, but all the time I spent studying in my life, five years of university included, wouldn’t even add up to two weeks). I could afford to drop out of uni three times because I didn’t feel like going anymore, and can now pursue a carrier making my own games for a living. And don’t even get me started on all the amazing talents I have.
Point is, you can’t really be much more privileged than I am. I never had to worry about anything and have, at 26, already done and experienced things most people can only dream of. Does that mean that my life is perfect, or easy even? Not at all. I have struggled with depression my whole life, a chronic chemical imbalance and a major depressive disorder on top of that in recent years. That I don’t have to worry about anything substantial doesn’t mean that my brain doesn’t anyway either. Intrusive thoughts, OCD, social anxiety all isn’t as fun as it’s made out to be.
But privilege doesn’t say anything about the quality of your life in the first place. It only says that you don’t have to deal with systemic oppression, disenfranchisement, being treated like worthless trash because of traits you have no control over in addition to all the shit that life throws at us. Sure, you may not always get what you want, you may be sad because the person you like doesn’t like you back, but you don’t get bullied because of the color of your skin, you don’t get told that your sexual orientation is sick and wrong, you don’t get dismissed, assaulted, reduced to a nonentity because of your gender. You only have to deal with being sad because one person you liked didn’t like you back.
But understanding that is hard, because no-one ever really tells you that. We grow up thinking that all is well in the world and that everything’s fine the way it is, because everybody acts that way. If most people were mistreated, surely someone would say something? Yet the only people to ever mention this are the ones who’d benefit from the change.
Basically, everything suggests that there’s no problem, which makes those pointing out that they are not, in fact, treated well, seem like they are looking for special treatment. And in a way they are, because their mistreatment is so normal that it doesn’t even look like mistreatment anymore.
Vicious Circle Jerk
And there’s the other big issue we have when approaching these topics. We talk only to each other, while those it’s happening to are dismissed as being too “sensitive” and “emotional.” Straight people make major life decisions for gay people. Men decide over women’s bodies. White people discuss whether racism is still a problem. Rich people tell the poor to just stop being poor.
Do you see the pattern here? The only people involved in these discussions are those not affected by it, those who never had and never will have to experience anything like it, and have absolutely no fucking idea what they are talking about. We are but a bunch of clueless dickheads talking only to other clueless dickheads and think we can make informed decisions that way. But how the hell is that supposed to work?
I bet that everybody has at some point said, or at least thought, something along the lines of “You don’t know me” or “You weren’t there.” We actually do believe that our personal experiences can not be understood and thus shouldn’t be judged by someone else when we are at the receiving end, but the moment someone suggests that we can’t understand what it’s like for them because we are not them, we get offended and self-righteous about it, turning the mere suggestion that we can’t understand something into a bigoted attack against us.
Think about it like this: How do you feel about ancient politicians who have never seen a video game in their life deciding that games are harmful and need to be banned? How do you feel about fundamentalists deciding not to educate themselves and claim science is bullshit because Bible? How’d you feel about your parents telling you what to do, wear, study, become, who to marry, how to live?
You probably wouldn’t like that very much. Who would? Yet this is how we treat minorities. We decide that we know best and try to dictate their lives, modeled after our own, with total disregard to their unique experience and personhood. If you want to avoid that, if you want to have any chance to understand even half of what’s happening, you need to educate yourself. You need to talk to someone who actually knows about it firsthand, not just someone who’s best friend’s second cousin’s mother saw a Black guy once.
Breaking the Habit
So how did I do it? How did I come to understand that, finally?
I don’t think I actually have yet. Maybe I never will. Either way, it’s a long and hard process to unlearn all the harmful patterns you’ve been taught your whole life. The key is to listen. That’s how it happened for me. A friend of mine called me on my bullshit and wouldn’t let up until I finally stopped being a dick and listened. Then I started to read up to hear it from the people it happened to, to see it through eyes of the victims. I started talking to them, but instead of trying to argue or question what they said, I tried to understand why they felt that way and questioned my own thoughts on the subject.
It wasn’t quick or sudden, and there wasn’t a “moment” when it clicked, but I did come across a couple of articles that did have quite an impact on me.
The first was a now defunct tumblr called “Nice Guys of OKCupid.” A cached version is still available here, and I suggest that if you ever seriously complained about the “friend zone” or how girls only go for assholes, read all of it. It was a sobering experience to see all these terrifying, dull people who think of themselves as really good guys women just don’t want to be with because they’re too nice. I mean, just imagine being pressured into being with any one of them because they think they’re “really good guys,” or being called a whore because you’d rather be with someone with a personality who you are attracted to.
The others were this and this one on sexual harassment by Mariah Huehner (and while we’re at it, you might as well read the one by Laura Hudson and this uncomfortable post on creepy dudes). In the first one, Mariah writes about her experiences at SDCC, and when I finally got to the part where she talks about what actually happened and saw that it was only about some guy briefly touching her butt, I am ashamed to admit that my first thought was “Oh, that’s it?” It’s not even that long ago that I read them, so mere cluelessness isn’t really an excuse anymore, and yet I was still so used to the idea of women being groped and cornered that something like this didn’t feel like that big a deal.
But it is. This shouldn’t be normal. This shouldn’t be expected. And I shouldn’t think “That’s it?” when someone talks about unwanted physical contact. Football players are nervous about gay teammates because they might look at them in the shower, but being groped is totally cool and acceptable?
So yeah, I’m still an idiot, and I expect there to be a lot more that hasn’t even entered my mind yet. I’ll just keep listening and trying my best to recognize and fight these harmful attitudes. But as you see, even though I get some of it now, I still don’t get it entirely, which is why it’s so important not to listen to me or anybody else who isn’t an actual victim of the issue in question. Listen to the people it’s happening to. Talk to them, try to see it through their eyes, question what you think you know. Try to understand.
I can’t say that getting into all this is a whole lot of fun or that it’s easy, but if you want to take part in the conversation, you have to do your homework. I don’t blame you if you’d rather not get into this, but then at least recognize that you don’t actually know anything about it and don’t chime in. And if you’re the kind of person who likes to dismiss and minimize all this, let me ask you this:
What if you’re wrong? What if this isn’t a joke, what if this is actually hurting people?
If I’m wrong, all that happens is that I treat people with more respect and kindness than I absolutely have to. If you are wrong, lives are being ruined.
Is being kind really so bad?