Microaggressions vs Taking/Giving Offense

There is a very fine line to walk regarding communication that is considered to be microaggression. The reason that there is a fine line is because, as Dr Rivera discusses in The Power to Define Reality, each person lives a subjective reality.  While there is a common consensual reality, each person comes to that consensual reality with a different perspective.

If a person is part of a persecuted minority (whatever that persecution may be) their view of a situation is always going to be different than the view of someone who is in the non-persecuted majority.  It’s not just about race, body size/shape, gender, sexual orientation, or any other minority.  It’s about one human being having a radically different perspective than another human being.  It is also about refusing to understand that someone who is different than you may perhaps have experienced a pattern of subtle discrimination.  It is refusing to believe that there is any other perspective of the world than your own.  And it is invalidating the other person’s experience simply because it differs from your own.

On the other hand, our society has seemingly forgotten that there is a huge difference between the giving of offense, and the taking of offense. We have fallen into the trap of believing the worst of everyone around us.  We have turned cynicism into an attitude to be praised, instead of being an emotional challenge to overcome.  What it comes down to is the unwillingness to trust another human being. And sadly, along with the cynicism, we encourage fear and paranoia.

I have those trust issues too.  But, the difference is that I try to overcome those trust issues when dealing with the greater mass of humanity.  I try to assume the best of a person, unless they prove themselves to be unworthy of trust.  At worst, I try to assume ignorance or stupidity instead of true malignancy. And in my experience, it usually comes down to a reality of ignorance or stupidity on someone else’s part, than a real wish to do evil.

I will admit that this is one leftover from my conservative Christian upbringing.  If you look at Luther’s Small Catechism (part of the Book of Concord), you will see what I mean.  The Small Catechism is what we studied from for our confirmation.

The Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

Now, admittedly, there are times when I fail at this, sometimes spectacularly.

But, to me that “put the best construction on everything” is the important part.  It is the same part in our justice system that ideally assumes a person is innocent until proven guilty.  Sadly, as part of the human race, we seem to be more willing to assume someone is guilty until proven innocent.  Some feminists, for example, assume that simply having a Y chromosome means that a person is automatically the aggressor.  Some people of differing ethnicities assume that anyone not of that ethnicity is automatically out to destroy them.  Some of the people who are active in assorted subcultures (such as Neo-Pagans, polyamorists, or people into BDSM – or any other number of subcultural associations) assume that they will automatically be defined as deviant, and therefore persecuted.

I’m not saying that the repeated experience of microaggressions is not a valid experience.  It is.  But, for myself, I do have to step back from my initial knee-jerk reaction to someone making an off-hand comment that seems to me to echo other statements that have been pejorative about my weight.  I have to give that person the benefit of a doubt that perhaps they didn’t mean it the way I heard it.

Subjective reality can only be questioned from the inside.  It can never really be understood from an outside perspective.  So, it’s up to me to try to be objective about my own trigger issues.  It’s up to me to be aware of my own emotional state at any given time, and recognize that because I may be feeling insecure or afraid that I may be interpreting a perfectly innocent comment in a pejorative fashion.

Oh, I could ignore the fact that I am upset, or that I didn’t sleep well, or any of hundreds of other reasons I might be in a less than stellar mood.  I could automatically assume the worst of anyone speaking to me.  I could walk around (and have done so) with a chip on my shoulder, and a defiant attitude.  That doesn’t mean that I have the right to be offended at my interpretation of what is being said.  I still have the responsibility to verify what was meant by the words that were spoken BEFORE I get upset about it.

Categories: Mental Retraining | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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