There’s a tendency we all have when faced with things we’ve said or done that don’t show us in a favorable light to distance ourselves from those things as much as humanly possible. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We all have. It’s ok.
Still don’t know what I’m talking about? Ok. Small scale: Someone tells a racist joke, you call them out on it being racist, they respond immediately with… wait for it… “I’m not racist!” As though that takes away the impact of what they’ve said. As though they couldn’t possibly have said something racist. As though anything they say couldn’t have been racist, because they’re not.
Except it totally can.
There’s a defensiveness to that statement, and it’s an understandable one. If you’re saying I did this thing, what does that say about me? Who are you saying I am? What kind of person would do that sort of thing? There’s the problem from where I’m sitting. This idea that only a certain kind of person could do a certain kind of thing, and if I did that thing then I must be that kind of person.
Through all our interactions with each other and the media we absorb, there’s a major dehumanization effort that goes on when someone does something terrible. We do this reflexively, because it makes us feel safe. It makes us feel special and secure in how good we all are. The less human we can see that person as, the less we see our own capacity to do what they did. That person is a monster. They aren’t like us. They aren’t like me. It also makes the small-scale transgressions of our everyday lives seem less impactful, less of a big deal.
A quick googling of humanity as an adjective gives me “the quality or state of being kind to other humans or animals” right underneath “the quality or state of being human”. As much as we’d like to think they’re the same thing though, they’re not. Not even remotely. Every person who has ever done a horrible thing was a person. Just like you. Just like me.
Why am I talking about this? Because the way we dehumanize murderers and rapists has a direct impact on the way we relate to each other.
We all want to think of ourselves as pretty good people. At least I do. So when something is brought to me that conflicts with my idea of who I am, it’s a natural reaction to dismiss it. Because letting in the impact of what I’ve done threatens my ability to keep thinking of myself as a good person. A good person wouldn’t have done that, and because I’m a good person I wouldn’t have (even if I did).
It’s all too easy to say, “I’m not that kind of girl,” or “I’m not that kind of guy”. But what are we so afraid of, really?
We are (in part) the sum total of every decision we’ve ever made, of every single thing we’ve ever done. Some of those things have been great, some of them have been unbearably shitty. But they’re still us. You can’t take the parts of yourself that feel the most warm and snuggly while leaving your capacity for harm out on the steps. It doesn’t work like that.
If you’ve hurt someone, you’re the kind of person who would hurt someone. If you lie, you’re the kind of person who lies. If you say racist shit, you’re the kind of person who says racist shit. It’s just that simple.
I’m a runner. No, not that kind, don’t put me down for cardio. I mean my first instinct when I’m uncomfortable is to run as far away as I can as quickly as possible. I don’t recommend it. In these instances especially, though, running won’t do you any good. It will actually probably maybe most likely make everything worse.
If something I do or have done conflicts with the way I’d like to keep seeing myself, I have options. I can look closely at it. I can try to figure out the why and how of it all. I can accept that that’s a thing I did. I can acknowledge that I’m the kind of person who would do that thing, but I don’t want to continue. I can do the postmortem and figure out how to prevent myself from doing that thing anymore. I can move on.
Or, I can admit that that’s a thing I do and get right with it. Either way.
We need to take care to be realistic with ourselves, and others. We need to take care not to invalidate others or dismiss our capacity for harm as well as good. We’re all capable of everything. Even me. Even you.
We’re all just human.