When I was just a little kid I used to run around the playground at school telling my classmates to play nice (and then running away.) Even though I am nearly twenty now, I often still get the urge to yell play nice (and then run away) in my daily life. I find myself almost constantly surrounded by equal-rights activists these days, which makes me incredibly happy… and yet, even among the people who I share so much in common with, I often witness arguments and hurt feelings that could so easily have been avoided if we would just play nice.
With that in mind, here are a few simple ways to be mindful of playing nicer within our communities!
1) The best thing we can do for one another is to listen with open minds and hearts. So many arguments could be resolved, simply by opening our ears and trying to understand where the other person is coming from, what they are feeling. When you’re talking with someone, even if you completely think they are WRONG please, take a few minutes to push your anger aside and listen to what they are saying with a blank slate. Even if you leave that conversation still finding them wrong, at least you will better understand why they feel the way that they do, thus, making it easier to accept the difference in opinion and remain on good terms.
2) Avoid telling others how they feel. For instance, you may not find a comment racist/sexist/hurtful/whatever but your friend might. If you tell them “No, that wasn’t racist/sexist/hurtful/whatever” then you are, in essence, telling them their their point of view doesn’t mean anything to you. We don’t always have to agree with one another, but we should allow each other the right to feel what we feel. If the hurtful thing in question is something you did/said/made then apologize (and none of that bullshit I’m sorry you feel that way just apologize for what you did) and move on; if it was a third party comment/action/whatever then tell you friend you are sorry they feel hurt, and move on.
3) Stay out of the defensive. We all make mistakes from time to time; if your friend is telling you that you offended them or said something offensive, that does not mean they think you’re an awful person. Apologizing for what you did and making a concentrated effort not to do it again is the best way to respond to a situation like this; getting defensive only ensures that you won’t learn from your mistakes and your friendships will suffer.
4) Don’t attack! When it is your turn to talk stick to I statements (I feel sad because you [did whatever] vs. You made me feel sad) that focus on how their actions/words/whatever effect(ed) you. This keeps the focus where it belongs and avoids accusatory language that causes others to shut down.
Focus on the what they did rather than the what they are. This video, from the awesome Jay Smooth, talks about confronting racist comments/actions but the advise contained within can apply to almost anything…
Obviously this only works when all participants in a conversation are listening to one another, using I statements, and respecting eachother’s feelings. If you are dealing with someone who refuses to respect you I am not advising that you bend over backwards to accommodate them! A simple line like, “I’m sorry, I can’t continue this conversation because I feel incredibly disrespected by [insert actions here].” and then a graceful exit will get you out of a painful situation with your dignity in tact (and as little drama as possible) any time.
We’ll never all agree on everything, but if we open our minds and engage in respectful, open dialogue we can skip past the petty fights and needless drama and leave room for more happiness and positive change in our communities.
ETA: I just read this post which contains a lot of what I was trying to say here, but better.