One of the hardest things for me to remember is that not everyone sees the world the way I do, even when we seemingly agree about perspectives. Despite having similar views to many people, that doesn’t mean that we come to the same conclusions in the same way or for the same reasons. And even though I am constantly working hard at making sure that my moral compass points the right way, that does NOT mean that my way is The Right Way to do things.
Spinning Moral Compass
When I was a teenager, perhaps normally so, I took pride in being rebellious, different, and going against the current. Growing up and being in my 20’s, going against the current became more about feeling special, and I used everything from my one-of-a-kind name to my mixed heritage (neither things I had control over) as proof that I was special. I even wrote a book about it. Years later, when I read that book, I couldn’t believe how glaringly obvious my desire to be special was sprawled out across this book for the world to see. I had painted myself naked for everyone to read, and there was no hiding from my ultimate desire. I wanted to be seen as special by everyone who met me.
After studying psychology and understanding other people’s desire to be special as well, I learned something. My desire to be special meant I wanted to be one-of-a-kind so I would be hard to let go of. By being rare, it meant people wouldn’t just abandon me. I wanted to be worthy of love, and impossible to abandon, and I attributed that to being “special”. It all came down to being immune to being abandoned. (Spoiler alert: this is impossible.)
Curating a unique personality will not guarantee that people will not abandon you. Eventually, with a bit more understanding of this, my attempt to be special fell into the background, and it was replaced instead with the desire to be seen, heard, and understood. I was fine with not being unique if it meant I was understood. I would let go of being one-of-a-kind if it meant I was loved. So rather than be different, I chose to be Good™.
However what does being Good™ even mean? Some people may find their answer in a bible, or a book written by a God they believe in. What happens when you follow no dogmas and your desire to be Good™ is mostly about being free and safe along with the community?
Every time I tried to come up with any form of “guideline” for myself I was met with discrepancies. For example, do I think killing is bad? Yes. Do I think Nazis getting killed is bad? The lines are a little foggier there.
So to no one’s surprise, it turns out I’m not all Good™, and the more dystopian sci-fi TV shows I watch, the more I think even the most righteous hero could end up making shady decisions when under pressure and trying to do “what’s best”. In other words, you will be hard pressed to find any one person be made up of pure evil or pure good. All of the best characters in books, TV, and film are layered, but that complicates things when you are faced with an actual dictator you want to hate, or when your favorite feminist ends up saying some extremely problematic things. I could perhaps say that I am “better” than a dictator in charge of murdering thousands of people, but was I “better” than a feminist activist who had done more good in her life than I ever had, who just so happened to also have a bigger platform from which to mess up?
Perhaps the most logical thing to do is to accept that we are all a little shitty sometimes. We all tend to mess up, make the wrong decision, or be a little (or very) toxic at some point. It doesn’t make us inherently Bad™, it just means we are humans, hopefully evolving, and hopefully doing the best we can.
Preaching To The Choir
One of the final lessons they taught us at the University of Santa Monica when we were about to graduate was to avoid falling into Holy Man Syndrome. This meant to not go around preaching to people acting like we were somehow better than them. I tried to keep this constantly in mind, but looking back on the tone I’ve taken with loved ones, the paragraphs upon paragraphs I catch myself writing, I know I have fallen in the trap of acting holier than thou with people around me. It’s no that I think it’s better, it’s that I have spent so much time thinking about things, (what you might call over-analyzing) that I’ve ended up with a lot of next-level questions and answers and I want to be challenged and I want the conversation to move on and I’m impatient and so I want others around me to be AT LEAST on the same page as I am when it comes to topics. So I preach, and I write, and I mansplain, (men are notorious for it but everyone does it) and I write retaliate and challenge and go on and on and on trying to get people to see things from where I’m coming from. That way if they DO retaliate, they do so from a point I hadn’t thought about before, allowing me to move forward in my understanding of things instead of backwards.
When people use old arguments that have already been discussed over and over again, (for example why saying “men are trash” is actually not a double standard, and why saying “all lives matter” is actually racist) then I get impatient with the point being given. My hope is not to be “right”, and prove the person “wrong”, what I am hoping for is actually for us both to agree for the bigger picture. That moral compass I was talking about? I want it to be pointing the same direction for us both.
That being said, I tend to get in my feelings when people push back in ways that trigger my defense mechanism if they disagree and word things to make me feel stupid, invalidated, or attacked. It becomes more about proving the person wrong than it does sticking to the facts and the point at hand. After “refusing” to get into discussions on Facebook with people voicing their opinion on a matter that is super delicate, I find myself writing novels upon novels trying to explain to people why they’re wrong instead of asking myself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to move the conversation forward?” And try to keep it civil while I follow my intention forward. I don’t always achieve this, however. In fact, most of the time, I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction. There’s a number of ways I stray away from the topic using logical fallacies and a few cognitive biases that put a blindfold over my eyes.
Some examples of the logical fallacies I commit are:
- Personal Incredulity – I try very hard to be aware of this one, and I consider myself to be better at catching myself, but it’s still one of the quickest fallacies to show up for me.
- Appeal to Nature – I have absolutely used this as a way to turn my nose towards certain things that didn’t “sound” natural to me. Everything has a chemical compound, however, and refusing to acknowledge technological advances is refusing to accept human evolution as nature.
- The Texas Sharpshooter – Woof. This one is a popular one not only for myself, but for others trying to make their point. In the internet era and age of misinformation, you can find a website that supports absolutely any view you have; from vaccines being horrible to vaccines being the best thing. I have absolutely been known to cherry pick information and it serves no one. I want to be knowledgeable, not right. Cherry Picking does not help me move the conversation forward, only my ego.
- Appeal to Emotion – Honestly probably one of the most manipulative tactics I have used in discussions. But again, this only helps me look good instead of holding space for a conversation that helps the community.
While I have definitely applied some of the other ones, I think these tend to be the ones I do the most, but I try to repeatedly go back to the fallacies to remind myself of what the goalpost always is: spread knowledge, not ego.
The harder ones to catch are cognitive biases.
As I scrolled through the different biases I felt like every single one applied to all humans, or at the very least to me. It made me question how we theorize, judge, and/or conclude. How can we come to terms with something if we have so many ways to be biased?
The biggest one for me? I would have to say is the curse of knowledge. This is what I wrote at the very beginning of the blog. We tend to assume others are as we are and to assume others know what we know. I am absolutely guilty of this, and have made a huge point to try to remember how different reference points can be a privilege. For example, growing up Latinx and as a woman, I have specific knowledge and reference points of what prejudice and sexism can look like in my culture. While it isn’t a privilege to be preyed on for your assumed gender, the understanding, awareness, and ability to conceptualize that awareness is a privilege. To get upset with, say, a Chinese cis-man for not understanding the sexism I’ve undergone isn’t exactly fair. Even more removed, most of the things I know aren’t based on my own experience but from what I’ve heard, read, seen, and understood as truth from others. Like the saying goes, “no one was born woke”. If I have the emotional bandwidth to give people a benefit of a doubt, and the mental capacity to explain rather than judge, it is more helpful and compassionate to remember that I too needed things explained to me and that I too have been (and will probably continue to be) problematic at one moment or another.
If I do not have the ability to stay in a tense discussion, then I can kindly set up boundaries, as it is not my inherent responsibility to exhaust myself past capacity for the sake of others. Rest is power.
So there it is, a prime example of the ways in which I screw up constantly and stray away from my main goal by getting in my feels and let my defense mechanism speak for me. But you know what? That’s ok. I’m human, and so long as I get to be aware of this I also get to do differently next time. There are so many other conversations to be had, and so many moments that I’ve nailed the discussion. I encourage you to share with me your “favorite” biases and fallacies. Let us celebrate our imperfections and the ability and desire to do better. Let us show ourselves compassion and rejoice in our growth. Shame won’t end the patriarchy, self-accountability will.
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