Fixing things is tough. Fixing social things is especially tough. People are dynamical meat systems, and capable of nearly anything.
The kinds of social things I’m talking about here are events, gatherings, groups, etc. Anywhere there’s a few people. Sometimes in these situations, unpleasant things happen. Sometimes people are bullied. Sometimes they are cornered. Sometimes they are overwhelmed. Sometimes worse. To put not too fine a point on it, this is horseshit. This should never happen, but it does.
Sometimes it happens because some people are predators. Sometimes it happens because some people are clueless. Sometimes it happens because people won’t speak up if they have a problem. Sometimes it happens because when people do speak up, they’re shut down. All of it’s horseshit, though. It should never happen.
This is my attempt to offer a solution. A possible solution. One of the bricks of a little cathedral-building, if you like.
First, remember that I’m not overly fond of passive-aggressive or indirect “lists” that help “clueless” people in social situations straighten up and fly right. By “not overly fond,” that’s a euphemism for the idea that I think not only do they not work, but that they cause more harm than good. My rationale behind that is all here: We are the cops — you and me, so if you want to discuss or debate that, that’s where you go.
My fix is different.
My fix addresses you. By “you,” here, I also include “me,” by the way. Any “you” who’s reading this counts.
Here’s my idea:
Write down on a piece of paper or on a card the following:
This is the kind of person I am.
- Responsibility. I am responsible for my behavior and for the behavior of any social group containing me. I hold all members of this social group responsible for the group’s actions.
- Action. I will act when I see need and I will support the actions of others.
- Support. I will render aid immediately when I hear a request, and expect aid to be rendered when I request it.
- Listening. I will listen when someone is telling me they feel threatened, and I will expect to be listened to when I am telling someone I feel threatened.
I’ve made a PDF version you can download, in case your handwriting sucks. If you print it out, it’s exactly the right size to fit in the same place where all your other business cards are stuck. Assuming you want to do that.
You can also get a button to wear if you like.* Totally optional.**
My buddy Ken also built an image file, if you feel like sharing it on FB or some other social networking site:
Why is this different?
I’m operating here on the principal that each of us has the power to be the change we want to see. Each of us has the willingness and the ability and the motivation to make things work better. The only thing we might be lacking in is the sense that we have permission to act.
So, that’s what this is.
Permission to act.
This is entirely voluntary. If you don’t like my idea, if it doesn’t suit your needs, then you don’t have to do it. You can walk away. No skin off your nose. In fact, I think it must be voluntary. So, if you’re the host of an event, I don’t want to hear about how you went and made people keep these cards around, or made people wear badges. That’s crap. You can point them to the site, or even point them to your own private stash of cards and pins, but that’s about as far as it ought to go. No one should be made to participate. That way, if you see someone with one of these badges, or if you see someone with one of these cards in their wallet, you absolutely know 100% that they agreed to this, that they agreed to adopt this agreement with themselves.
Another principle I’m working with here is a boundary issue. I think that the only healthy way to look at boundaries is to look at your own. You can’t tell other people how to act, but you have control over how you act. That’s why this is a voluntary thing. If you accept it, then you agree that this is how you will act.
It doesn’t say jack shit about how other people will react. I can’t help you there. Like I mentioned earlier, people are dynamical meat systems and totally unpredictable. Trying to pin rules to them will drive you mad. The only person you can reasonably pin rules to with any sort of moral authority is yourself.
But that matters. That matters, I think, a great deal. That changes a social dynamic from “Gosh, I hope someone steps in and helps that person” to “I’ve decided that it’s my job to help people.” That brings you to a place where you aren’t isolated from those around you – where you feel powerless to act. It brings you to a place where you have permission to act. You’ve given yourself permission to act. And if you happen to be wearing a little pin somewhere, then other people might notice it. Other people might have a card in their wallet, but no pin. Other people might think “Okay, cool, I’ve got at least one person here who’s got my back.” You don’t even have to know them. That’s an awesome place to be.
Think for a moment about all the social situations in the past where things could have changed if even a single person had said something. Think of all the times things could have changed if only a single person had declared that this had to stop. Think of all the times things have happened to you where you wished even a single person had stood up for you.
All it takes is one person. One person to stand up. One person to listen. One person to act. One person to show others that action matters. Just one person.
Standing up to change or challenge a social situation is a powerful act. It’s vulnerability and strength all wrapped up with a bow of maturity. It’s a sign of advancing to the next level.
Achievement Unlocked. Status Declared.
Is this something we can discuss below? Sure, why not. After all, I want it to be a good tool. I want it to help you, and I want it to help me. Am I likely to change it. Well, not unless someone makes a suggestion that improves it. Then, sure, I’m open to listening. I’m not in a hurry to do this, but just saying this ain’t set in stone.
Now, I want to stress that this isn’t any sort of permission to be a jerk. I’m not going to go into a lot of fiddly detail on what that might mean, mostly because you’ve got to understand your social circle to get it and I’m not there. Plus, I’m not in the mood for a bunch of rules-lawyering. Don’t be a jerk. Be a good guy. Or gal. Or person. You know what I mean.
Even if you don’t want to try this, even if you don’t want to wear a button somewhere, even if you don’t feel right thinking about putting this in your wallet, I urge you to at least think about it. Think about how and who you are in a group. Any group. Think about what kinds of behaviors you want to be near, and what kinds of behaviors are or aren’t welcome to your social group. Think about how you feel when you’re with your friends versus with strangers and whether or not that really matters when it comes to being a good citizen. Think about all of that.
All of this is voluntary – even the thinking part – but I can urge you to think about it.
Postscript: Thank you everyone who wrote to me and who have been tweeting and retweeting this and sharing it around!
* A few people have mentioned that the button is blank. Yes, it’s blank. It’s supposed to be blank. Small and blank. That’s keeping with the non-ostentatious model.
** Why did I pick blue? Because I think some of the most helpful people are associated with blue.