October 19, 2015

Nice People Don't Deserve to be Called Out and Other Myths

I'm not sure if this qualifies as tone policing, but it tends to get trotted out shortly after the always popular and dismissive, "well, you're being too sensitive, so your opinion doesn't matter" part of an online discussion where I have pointed out something offensive that someone has said or posted.

The phrase is sometimes said by the person being called out, or by their friends and it's: "don't pick on me/them, I'm/they're a really good person! They didn't intend to offend and they have ______ friends/family members."

Louis C.K. quote from QuotesBerry.com that says, "when a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't."

It's the old, "I can't be racist, I have a black friend" trope, mixed in with this bizarre idea that nice people can never mess up and accidentally offend anyone. Just like how a nice person could never accidentally get into a car crash because we all know, they didn't intend to! Sounds funny, doesn't it? That's because it makes no sense.

Even if, let's say, you are the nicest person in the world and you would never intend to hurt a fly - and even if, let's say, I'm really super amazingly sensitive, if I tell you I'm hurt/offended, the really super nice thing to do is sit with that fact for two seconds and rather than dismissing it. You can say such compassionate things, as: "I never thought of it that way" or "I hear what you're saying but I don't quite understand. Would you be able to explain more?" or even, "I see what you're saying, but I still disagree." That's what nice people do.

You don't need to call people over sensitive. You don't need to tell them they're too angry or loud or scary or stupid or ugly or wrong. You don't even always have to apologize, though a sincere one is welcome.

If I'm calling someone out, it has nothing to do with how nice a person you are. (Though how you handle it can say a lot about your character.) It doesn't matter if you're the Pope, when you say something bigoted, racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. you need to be told because it's not nice and most of the time, you're being called out because I thought more of you. I know you can do and be better and most of the time, you did it because you made a mistake.

We all have blind spots in our activism. We all have privileges we forget about or take for granted. I know if I goof up, I certainly want to be called out. Don't leave me in ignorance because you think I'm an otherwise nice person.

Also consider the amount of courage it may have taken for that person to tell you. Take a moment to honour that and stop defending how nice a person you think you are and how you are apparently exempt from causing harm.

As Maya Angelou said, "when you know better, you do better."

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