Today's post is an expansion of a note I wrote on the Breaking Silence class, I talk about how having empathy for both survivor and perpetrator is crucial for effective abuse response. In order to explain why empathy for the perpetrator is important, I pose the following to my audience:
Think about the worst thing you've ever done to someone else.
We all have at least one instance in our past when someone was seriously hurt, physically and/or emotionally, and we were the ones to blame.
What did it take for you to admit the wrongdoing to yourself?
What did it take for you to admit it so someone else, or the person you wronged?
How did or would you have felt if, before/when you came to terms with your actions, you were berated and labeled?
Every time I ask those questions, the room gets very quiet.
That's why Gottman's four horsemen are prevalent in interpersonal conflict.
Gottman talks about these horsemen in terms of relationships, but I think that these horsemen and antidotes also apply to internet discourse. This doesn't apply to institutional oppression, and won't help fix broken systems. But it can make hot button conversations both more productive and less toxic.
Stepping off the soap-box now.
I'm working under a few assumptions here.
•The goal of the critique is to somehow change minds or ask for some form of accountability. If the aim is to discharge anger and pain, and/or you don't much care whether your words have real-world impact on the subject's views/behaviors, that's another story altogether. Keep in mind that a blaming article will elicit defensive, if not outright abusive responses even if the blame is well placed. (To be fair, you may get defensive and abusive responses regardless.) See above statement about human wiring.
•You want to engage the behaviors and sociopolitical issues at hand. There is some onus to explain your position and possibly back up your argument. Otherwise, this screed doesn't apply.
•Not all internet dustups are worth your time and energy. Sometimes the sanity-saving course of action is to not engage or know when to quit. To quote the ever fabulous Brene Brown: "Don't try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer"