It was a startling realisation. I’m not even being facetious.
I was raised and went through school with the idea that we have to make an effort to be friends with everyone. Be polite, be civil, be friendly, be helpful, be kind.
Values that Harm.
I still hold a lot of those values. I will go out of my way to be helpful. I believe kindness is one of the most important, yet most under-valued, traits that a person can have. Manners cost nothing. Civility is the bare minimum of expectations but it’s important. If you can’t even manage that, you won’t get far.
The darker side of these values instilled in me was that I was far too willing to put up with shitty people, because I was socialised to do exactly that. I would try to see the good points of a person and ignore the less-than-good. Is it a girl thing? I wonder if it is. Girls should be nice, girls should be tolerant. Girls are raised to put up with all manner of bullshit, but that’s how Patriarchy works, right? We know Patriarchy holds us back, restricts us, limits us, sets us up for victimisation. So not being friends with jerks is just one small way around that.
Say No to Jerks.
It took me 30 years to work this shit out, so I’m sharing it with you in case you don’t know yet, because someone telling me might have made me see the bloody light sooner. You don’t have to put up with jerks. You do not. People that are jerks have no place in your life. Some people who are jerks are not optional, like family members, but most of them are. Even family members that are jerks do not have to be tolerated all the time.
On Walls and Other Walls.
I used to be friends with some truly dreadful people. I would socialise with them, feel obliged to invite them to things, have coffee with them, be Facebook friends with them and put up with the awful things they said with gritted teeth. After seeing them in person or reading something they posted online, I’d explode to someone more reasonable about the dickish things I’d forced myself to listen to. It’s not that I sat there and put up with it- I’d put my two cents in. But arguing with someone who is, say, extremely racist, is a bit like arguing with a wall. A noisy, racist wall. But a wall, nonetheless. They are a wall and you, the voice of reason, will not budge them with your sound and rational arguments. They probably feel like you are a wall too- but the difference is they don’t want to hear what you have to say, you’re just a wall, they can graffiti you all over with their racist remarks and as a wall, there’s nothing you can do. Same goes for the mansplainers, the homophobes and the climate change deniers.
Stop being a wall that hangs out with other walls that don’t share your values. Do you see what I’m saying, despite my poor analogy?
I used to engage with these “friends” all the time. Whether it was race or feminism or politics or whatever, I’d enter into these discussions not because I was desperate to be right or to be smarter than they were but because I wanted to believe that they didn’t really feel this way, not really. They were my friends. I wouldn’t be friends with people that really thought asylum seekers should be turned away. I wouldn’t hang out with people that really thought Aboriginal people should just “get over the past” and stop “expecting special treatment”. Why would I celebrate special events with people who actually believed that feminism was an excuse for women to make superiority to men a right? I wouldn’t! Of course I wouldn’t!
But I was. So I debated, discussed, argued and bashed my head against a thousand brick walls in an effort to convince myself that they were good people who just liked healthy debate. Maybe they just liked to play Devil’s advocate, maybe they just didn’t know about certain things. Like, maybe they’d never heard of the Refugee Convention and read too many Daily Telegraph articles so if I were to just let them know about it, they’d come around. Maybe they didn’t know about the Gender Wage Gap or the disparity in life expectancy between Aboriginal Australians and white people, so if I were to just show them this link or tell them about this statistic…
Turns out, trying to share information with people who have no interest in changing their views is a bad idea. An exercise in frustration. An example of cognitive dissonance on more than one level. The first is level is that they are unwilling to bend because they don’t actually want to so they will ignore or actively try to discredit your information or point of view. The next level is when you persist because you’re sure your friend is a good person who doesn’t really believe what they’re saying- they just don’t know about x or haven’t considered y or whatever. This is what I had to learn- this was my cognitive dissonance- my refusal to accept that what they were telling me was, in fact, what they thought or believed.
How to Deal.
Are you nodding your head? Is this you, too? You have friends, maybe a heap, maybe a few, who fit the bill? Like, they’re nice enough but actually, they are mad racists or shockingly homophobic or endorse some other thing that goes wholly against whats important to you? There’s no really easy way to deal with this, but you’re not at school anymore. Give yourself permission. You can try to slowly distance yourself until you are just kind of acquaintances. You can politely refuse invitations, stop issuing them yourself and generally minimise contact. If they notice, they might ask what’s going on- or they may be quietly relieved, who knows? You can make excuses if they do ask or you can tell it to them straight. I’ve done both and telling it straight, I have to admit, feels pretty good. It’s freeing. It’s breaking away from this conditioning that you must always be NICE and POLITE and you must PUT UP WITH IT. You do not have to do these things. There may be fall-out; it may cost you other friends or make upcoming events awkward or whatever.
But there comes a point, when you’ve gone through your friends list like Miley on a wrecking ball, when life is suddenly less fraught and so much more pleasant. Your friends, the real ones that are left, are people who get you and you get them.
You don’t have to tolerate or (worse) accept people that treat you condescendingly, that mock, trample or put down the ideals that matter to you. Once you realise that, it gets a whole lot easier.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.