Here's the Thing: Being Right vs Doing Right
AN ANGEL, WHOM WE LOVE:
After months of working to build out my friend circle living in San Francisco, I’ve begun to learn about my worst social habit.
I am TOO JUDGEY! I know there is passive, idle judgement that floats through everyone’s brains that is unavoidable (ie: “Oh that’s a weird hat” or “Tall men walk too slow”). This is misplaced instinct that my ancestors would have more wisely spent on “Oh, look a predator.”
However, there are more serious occasions where The Judgement kicks in for stuff that is more important. For example, when my friend’s boyfriend says something racist. Or when my coworkers endorse toxic eating habits. Or when my mom says something transphobic.
While these are important things to fight against in the world, is my fighting with this person reducing the racism/sexism/homophobia or am I just alienating someone? I am straight, white, & female and I got the space to learn & grow, so they deserve it too.
This problem has cost me romantic relationships, friendships, and made me distant from my family.
Back when I was religious, these fights were the marker of a person doing God’s work. It meant you weren’t lukewarm about what you believed in. While I left church behind, I can’t shake this feeling that if I don’t assert my Righteousness every chance, I’m failing at being a good person. But when I pick the fight, it also feels guilty and I’ve made another person feel bad too.
How do I make the world better without positioning myself as judge?
By finding ways to actually help.
I don’t mean that to belittle what you’re doing now. I think it’s very good and healthy to be judgmental about racist or transphobic or body-shaming (etc., etc.,) comments and . actions. In no way should you feel the need to be quiet or placate those around you for the sake of “keeping harmony” when what they’re doing is actually hateful and not harmonious AT ALL. Of course, there are plenty of times in our lives where it costs “too much” socially to say anything, or where we simply don’t know the right thing to say, or where we’d get actually full on fired or punished for speaking up.
What you have to decide is what your lines are, what you want to fight, what you must fight, etc. To some extent, we all have a line already in place. If you saw your friend’s boyfriend punch a dog in the face, you would do something (I hope!). That line already exists for you. What you need to get more personal clarity on is what your line is going to be about other issues outside of dog punching. What can you tolerate? What will you never accept? Those things are likely going to change over time.
As a reminder, you can know someone did or said something wrong and call them out without blowing up the relationship. Or, you can at least try. You can say in a friendly tone, “Hey, I’m not here to police you, but don’t make transphobic remarks around me. If you do, I’ll walk away.”
But after these conversations and confrontations (if you do choose to have them), I think you have to do another step which is to show up and do the work. That might look like volunteering or showing up to protests or marching with people or giving money to marginalized folks. That’s the work that has to be done big picture, and you may find that with those experiences, you react differently to the bigoted remarks of others.
Sometimes you’re going to make the right call. Sometimes you’re going to fumble. That’s ok. It’s worthwhile to stand up for what you believe in, for what is right, even if sometimes the cost is losing people (who frankly sound like bigots). That doesn’t mean you have to come across as judgmental (“You’re a shithole person for saying that.”) You can express your love for marginalized folks instead, (“The people you’re talking about are facing a lot of hatred already, and what you’re doing is perpetuating that. Please stop.”) I’m not saying you won’t ever think “You’re a shithole person for saying that.” But you don’t need to express that. It’s not going to change them and it certainly will not serve you. Spend your energy elsewhere. Pour out love wherever you can, put boundaries where you simply can’t.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.