Disconnects about whether or not something has been explained

For the anon who feels like people cut them out a lot: one other potential issue could be that people try to explain things to the anon, but for whatever reason (no words for what they want to say, being too intimidated to be more forthright, or some other reason), it may be that they can’t explain things as clearly as anon might need, so anon perceives them as “not explaining” why they do things when, from their perspective, they *are* explaining things and anon just isn’t taking the hint.

Sometimes abstract discussions are not appropriate

If someone is telling you about a bad situation they’re in, or something they’re upset about, it’s probably not a good time to launch into an abstract discussion of something tangentially related.

For instance:

  • Jane: My coworkers keep hitting on me. It’s really getting to be a problem.
  • Bill: Well, hitting on people can be very important.

Likewise, when someone wants support for a bad thing that happened, that is probably not a good time to have an abstract conversation with them about the nature of the words they’re using.

For instance:

  • Bruce: This is such an awful work schedule. My boss keeps telling me it doesn’t matter because we’re doing such awesome things. He’s so freaking invested in his privilege.
  • Leo: I don’t know that I’d call that privilege. I mean, obnoxiousness sure, but I’m not seeing the privilege. Doesn’t privilege mean being part of a privileged group? How’s your boss privileged?

Bill and Leo might be right, but what they’re saying isn’t appropriate in context. They’re changing the subject to make it about something else they want to discuss in an abstract way, rather than listening to the problem the person is actually talking about.

That’s obnoxious. (And it’s different from calling people on bad things they do, which can be important too. This subject-change to an abstract topic rather than the problem at hand is a different thing than saying “hey, you’re saying something messed up here”.)

A method for understanding confusing lectures

Some teachers have a disorganized lecture style that’s difficult to follow.

One reason this can happen is if there’s like 5 things they want to talk about, but they don’t do it in an organized way. Like they keep moving from one topic to another, then back again.

For instance, in a class on vegetables, a teacher might talk about carrots, onions, peppers, celery, and for some reason, cows. They might jump around from one topic to another, saying things about each as they’re reminded of them. 

It can help to use a computer to take notes, make topic headings, and add to each topic as it is raised.

So it could look like this, in the hypothetical class about vegetables:

Teacher says: Carrots grow in the ground. Onions grow in the ground. Onions are delicious when you caramelize them. They’re good with steaks. So are peppers, even though they don’t grow in the ground. The other thing about carrots is that they are orange, and they are sweet and have more sugar than you’d think a vegetable would have. Cows like to eat vegetables. Celery needs to be washed before you eat it. So do carrots. Cows can eat vegetables without washing them. 


  • Grow in the ground
  • Orange
  • Sweet
  • have more sugar than you’d think
  • Need to be washed before you eat them


  • grow in the ground
  • delicious when you caramelize them
  • good with steaks


  • Good with steaks
  • Don’t grow in the ground


  • Like to eat vegetables
  • Don’t need to wash vegetables first


  • Needs to be washed before you eat it

You can do this with Word files, but I’ve found that it’s easier with outlining software. (I use OmniOutliner). The advantage to outlining software is that it’s really easy to drag things around if you change your mind about which topic they go in. You can also collapse topic headings when the topic seems to be over, then reopen them if it comes up again.

If you think more visually, a diagraming program might work well for you. Idea Sketch works reasonably well on iPad. This works well for following lectures, but notes taken this way can be harder to use later than more conventional notes. It’s also difficult to share notes taken in this format.

Another thing about privilege

If you have a lot of privilege, you’ve learned to take up all or most of the space when you’re around people below you in the hierarchy. 

It’s important to learn to stop doing that. It’s important to learn how to be in a space without dominating it. It means learning to listen to people you’ve been systemically taught that it’s ok to talk over.

This can be hard to learn. When you stop dominating spaces, you have to live with less control, space, and attention than you’ve become accustomed to. You’re going to feel constrained, and like the other people are taking up all the space – even if you’re still taking up most of it.

And, once it becomes clear that you’re trying, people will express anger at you a lot more than then used to. This might feel really unfair, since you’re acting better than you ever have before, yet you’re attracting a lot more anger and criticism. 

The reason it works this way is because people used to put up with you treating them badly because they didn’t see any point in objecting. Most people who have privilege and power over others don’t especially care about how it hurts people. Further, a lot of them get really angry and retaliate when it’s pointed out. You’ve shown that you’re someone who might actually listen. That means you’re the one who gets yelled at.

It’s not fair, but the people who are yelling at you aren’t the ones responsible for the unfairness. Don’t get angry at them for it – get angry at the people like you who aren’t getting yelled at because they don’t give a damn. And maybe start calling them on it and make their indifference cost them something. You’re probably in a much better position to do this than the people below you in the hierarchy. 

And keep in mind that the situation faced by the people who are yelling at you is a hell of a lot more unfair than the situation you’re in.

That said, don’t beat yourself up for feeling frustrated, either. This is hard, and it’s ok to find it difficult. You’re going to make mistakes, and some of this is really going to suck. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you can’t learn how to act right. (Also, sometimes people will tell you that you’re oppressing them when you’re not. You can’t automatically assume that everyone is right when they tell you off – but if you’re in a highly privileged group and you think *everyone* who is telling you off is wrong, you’re probably the one who is wrong.)

Just keep trying, and don’t make the people below you responsible for making you feel better.

Listening beyond words

Sometimes, words are misleading. Sometimes, if you only pay attention to words, it can make communication difficult.

Words are approximations, and they don’t mean the same thing to the everyone. Patterns of words can have very, very different connotations for different people. The same words, even the same phrases, can mean radically different things said by different people.

(Even slur words, sometimes. But I’m mostly not talking about those here.)

So you can’t rely on just the words. That’s misleading. A lot of other things matter too.

Part of it is paying attention to what you know about the person. Do their words match what you’d expect them to say? Is there another way of reading those words that matches that person better?

If someone seems to be saying something dramatically out of character, it’s entirely possible that they don’t mean what you expect those words to mean. It can be good to ask. Like, to say that those words seem to say x, did they really mean that, or something else?

In person, paying attention to tone can be helpful. And body language. And what sort of mood they seem to be in. And pauses. Not everyone can use all of these cues, and that’s ok, you don’t have to.

But there’s always more going on than exact literal meanings of words.