We all make mistakes. Despite good intentions, despite researching, despite feeling a level of confidence in our own grasp of a situation, familiarity with a subject, we all continue to make mistakes, to offend and hurt (usually unintentionally) through ignorance, stubbornness, or being generally out-of-touch.
I’ve made . . . a lot of mistakes. All you have to do is scroll through this blog and you’ll find a plethora of very public, very ignorant, very well meaning posts that were– ultimately– a mistake. In fact, there was this one time I made a blog post SO HUGELY OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY AND AWFUL that even thinking about it now makes me cringe and my mouth taste like spoiled tuna. But the good(ish) news is that I’m now an expert at being a moron, and learning from my mistakes.
So let’s talk about what happens when well-meaning people (I’ll even go so far as to call these well-meaning people “good people”) make hurtful, offensive mistakes / errors in judgement that cause hurt. Based on what I’ve seen over the last 6 years of writing books and using social media, this is usually what happens:
- Person (A)— despite their good intentions– says or writes something publicly that is ignorant, out-of-touch, hurtful, and/or offensive to (usually) a large group of people.
- Many people see it. Social media becomes aware. There is a disturbance in the force.
- Some of these people (people C-M) grow enraged and/or are hurt by the ignorant, out-of-touch, hurtful, and/or offensive statement and call it out to varying degrees, and along a vast spectrum of post-types. Some of these “calling out” posts are understandably emotional and heartfelt, expressing deeply held frustrations and sharing experiences of personal suffering. Some of these “calling out” posts are eloquent and patient, seeking to educate and offering allyship. And some of these “calling out” posts are just haters who like to hate and be outraged, usually spread unfounded rumors, and usually revel in the “downfall” of person (A).
- Some of these peoples (people N-S) aren’t outraged, and in fact feel badly for person (A). They worry about how person (A) is dealing with all the stress of having to deal with people (C-M) and their “attacks.” They reach out to person (A) and offer support. Maybe they really like person (A), or person (A) is their friend, and people (N-S) are more concerned about their friend than they are about whether or not person (A) actually did harm. (If people (N-S) were honest with themselves, they would admit that– even if person (A) actually did harm–it’s super inconvenient to be upset at person (A), so they’ll just ignore the harm.)
- Some of these people (people T-Z) aren’t at all outraged at Person (A), but they are outraged at people (C-M), and therefore begin trolling people (C-M). They harass, send death threats, call them names, tell them to go die, etc.
Now, we must pause here, because what happens next is what *TRULY* matters. Even though we all make mistakes, and often those mistakes are unintentionally hurtful, we rarely take steps to accept responsibility and reverse harm.
First, keep in mind: It is not the role of people (C-M) to educate the rest of the alphabet. Additionally, the pain and suffering of people (C-M) is not a “learning experience” for the rest of the alphabet either. Furthermore, people (C-M) are under no obligation to share their experiences with the rest of the alphabet, ever.
That said, I hypothesize that this is the best way to make your mistakes count for good, accept responsibility, and reverse harm:
- Person (A) must redirect people (N-S)’s concern and support away from her/himself. Person (A) should ask their supporters to stop worrying about person (A) and instead reach out to people (C-M) to let them know they are heard and supported (obviously, not the haters. Just ignore the haters, nothing you can do there). I am told this is called being a good ally.
- Person (A) should FOR REAL apologize. Publicly. Something like, “To all of those I’ve hurt, I am sincerely sorry. I see and understand my error. I was in the wrong.”
- Person (A) should acknowledge that he/she was not he one harmed and amplify those heartfelt, emotional voices of dissent and/or the educational voices of reason (e.g. retweet a few maybe?)
- Person (A) should call out people (T-Z) and tell them to stop being trolls.
In conclusion: Since person (A) made the mistake, she/he has to be the one to right the wrong (as much as is possible). But if you’re in group (N-S), you’re not off the hook, either. I understand the instinct to support a friend. I do. I HAVE THAT INSTINCT!!! But when a friend makes a mistake that is harmful to a group of people, expressing concern (publicly) for that friend shows the world you care more about person (A)’s discomfort than you do for people (C-M)’s pain.
That’s not cool. I’ve made this mistake, and was hugely grateful when person (B) pointed it out to me. (Person B is the voice of reason.)
Also, if you’re a hater in group (C-M), don’t be surprised when no one cares what you have to say. If all you do is hate and express outrage, most non-hater folks probably have you muted on social media. Personally, I think I must have over 500 haters muted on Twitter alone. This means the burden is higher on other people in the (C-M) group, which is just a damn shame. They’ve already been through enough. :-\
Last thing, if you’re in group (T-Z) WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU???? Don’t do this. Ever. And go seek help. Now.
Sorry if this is/was confusing, or made no sense to you. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and felt needed to be said. If any person (B) wishes to point out how I’m being out-of-touch, ignorant, or harmful with this post, I am seriously all ears and stand ready to apologize.