A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the balance of “freedom of speech” (which my father uses as a reason to be rude to people) and of “not causing others avoidable harm”, including emotional or mental upset.
I recognise that I cannot save every person from hurt, that negativity can shape positive futures and that people may need wake-up calls which require harmful comments in some cases. However, I do not wish to harm anyone, and working in mental health seems to have brought my sensitivity up to maximum.
This has been a major effect of my redefinition – of defining myself by compassion and openness instead of “needing to be right”.
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Last week, I posted a blog entry about my grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. I wrote it as an explanation for my mopey behaviour on twitter and because I still aim to share neuroscience-related information.
However, it was picked up for Freshly Pressed a feature, and I received thirty-six comments on it, including a few stating “the cause is X” and “here’s how to avoid it completely” as if anyone knew for sure ALL of the possible factors which cause it or worsen it.
I wouldn’t say I’m patient, but I’ve always thought of myself as open-minded and can generally ignore people I disagree with. However, reading comments which, to me, said “he could have avoided it simply” made me feel both sick and angry.
What upset me most, were the sweeping generalisations people made.
Levels of Care
From the age of 11, I found my emotional on/off switch. I experienced depression. I could not understand people being upset over earthquakes around the world, or people being upset by insults – they’re just words, after all. I had a very dull sense of emotional caring and a very high sense of right and wrong: a black and white view.
I still struggle in some cases to recognise the “joke too far”, which I assume all people experience on occasion. There is a sense of joking, and of pointing out things in others which I don’t agree with.
However, a few particular triggers have occurred in the last couple of weeks which have really brought to light my raised sensitivity. This is an exercise in making sure I’m on track in my redefinition process, and i’m noticing sensitivity higher than I was “aiming” for.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading newspaper articles online. There were a couple which broke free from stigma, where people expressed “they knew it was irrational, but still feel X and they weren’t sure how to resolve that.”
The Response? Comments on the article included people saying its “hilarious” that someone is upset over a trivial thing or that they are being manipulative by expressing their feelings.
That doesn’t sit well with me. Perhaps its realising just how much hurt people have caused by those comments – how the second half of my childhood was traumatised by that kind of behaviour.
Perhaps it’s because of the judgement, that even though the person has explained why they feel like it, the reader seems to have forgotten to LISTEN, to actually read and feel and understand. Who reads someone else’s view and thinks “Pfft, loser.” Surely I’m not the only human to read that and think “Woah, how did they reach that conclusion? What forms that opinion? How must they feel?”
If someone says “I recognise my feelings are over the top, but I feel sad about this. I know it’s not shared, but I’m human and I feel this”, I respect that person. They’ve fought through the stigma of “remaining silent”. They’ve done the mental work; they’ve recognised it would seem inappropriate to be openly upset and that upsetting others by their feelings isn’t going to help.
And they’re brave enough to be honest about those feelings regardless.
Not Just Content
Another incident involved a particular wording of a newspaper article’s title. The comments about misrepresentation were high, and I agree with that. However, the comments instantly targeted a new misrepresentation; instantly making the same mistake but just with someone else’s label, not theirs.
Comments saying “this title suggests X group are causing harm. In actual fact, It’s Ys fault, Y are harming people because they THINK those people are Xs” were common.
Who said Y is the ONLY cause of this harm? Who said that ALL Y groups do this? How dare you complain X are being stigmatised and then stigmatise Y.
It just doesn’t sit well with me. I’d call that hypocrisy and I even got involved in the comments to express this view.
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In this incident, people were also defining “child abuse” as part of their comments. Up arose the black-or-white teachings of my childhood and the rage that these people were attributing certain acts as “not really abuse”, when I know people who are traumatised and unable to live “normally” because of those actions.
If you are causing negativity to someone else with intention, that is deliberate harm and thus abuse in the dictionary and my opinion. That covers smoking near someone else, yelling at someone, calling someone names, using someone’s past against them and withholding something they need (neglect).
Yet I found very quickly that saying “well they called you a stupid woman, that’s verbal abuse” in the open gives you “don’t be ridiculous. It’s just a comment”. Why is hitting a child wrong but telling them off for crying “too loudly” not. Why is that person harassing you by commenting on your clothes but if they call your idea “ridiculous”, it’s not?
Judgement at Home
However, this realisation is not limited to online news stories. I’m living back with my parents. With the judgmental man who sees in black and white, and will openly profess his instant judgement. He’d yell at you for saying yelling is abuse; and come out with some “fact” that “everybody with sense knows” that is total horse-shit (not factual, just his opinion).
I grew up in a world where the world was black or white; and where he was always right, and everyone else was lacking. Through countering this, through trying to teach myself compassion, I’ve found that stepping outside of ym bedroom causes me rage and suffering on behalf of others who just shrug and accept life as “freedom”.
Much like the person from the newspaper article, I recognise this isn’t what society may call “normal”. This is me reading my own map and trying to work out if I wish to continue on this path; if these reactions are what I want – because I’m judging those people who make the comments.
It has brought to light a particular issue and while I take time to look it over in my own space, I’d like to know your views and thoughts:
How do you deal with drawing a line between freedom of speech and harming others?
What do you use to guide your choices in what is or is not appropriate?
– Rose –
Want to investigate your own beliefs? As phoenix rises from ashes into flame, the alchemist turns lead to gold.
Wander over to the Alchemy Forge and let’s fire up your thoughts.