“Blaming others”

“Take responsibility for your life and stop blaming others” is the kind of phrase that is sometimes really important and also sometimes dangerously misleading.

It’s important to take responsible for things that are within your control. Taking responsibility is about accurately assessing situations, and deciding what to do about them within the options you have.

Unfortunately, when people say “stop blaming others and take responsibility for your life,” they’re not always talking about assessing things accurately. Sometimes what they’re doing is trying to convince you to assume that everything you’re experiencing is always your fault; and that you could always make everything better if you just made better choices.

There are *some* situations in which it’s actually the case *in that particular situation* that blaming others is holding someone back. In those situations, it often *is* possible to fix things by making better choices. It’s important to recognize those situations when they arise. It’s not a remotely good idea to assume that all situations are like that.

Sometimes things are your fault. Sometimes they’re someone else’s fault. Sometimes it’s a mixture of both. In order to take responsibility for your actions, it’s important to realistically assess what’s going on. Sometimes that means noticing that other people are causing problems.

In order to be responsible, it’s important to evaluate what’s actually going on. Assuming that everything is always your fault won’t help.

A way you might be inadvertently sounding dismissive

Neutral-ish words like “Uh huh”, “ok”, and “sure” can sometimes sound like they mean “this is boring and I want you to stop talking about it”.

For example:

  • Matilda: My cat just had kittens! They are adorable!
  • Shira: Uh huh

This could sound to Matilda like Shira means “I’m annoyed that you’re talking about your cats and would like you to stop.”

If Shira actually wants to listen to Matilda talk about the cats but isn’t sure what to say, repeating part of what Matilda said might be a better option, eg:

  • Matilda: My cat just had kittens! They are adorable!
  • Shira: Your cat had kittens?!
  • Matilda: Yes, she did. Last week.

Another option is to say explicitly that you want to hear about it, eg:

  • Matilda: My cat just had kittens! They are adorable!
  • Shira: Tell me about your adorable new kittens?

This isn’t an exhaustive list; there are any number of other examples in both directions. But if you’re saying things that you think are neutral and it seems to result in other people ending the conversation a lot, it’s worth considering whether you’re inadvertently sending off linguistic signals that you’re bored.

On the right to communicate

all-women-kick-ass asked:

Is the word “stupid” ableist? I keep trying to explain to people that it’s a really important word for a really important concept but I can’t seem to put into words WHAT exactly that concept is.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t think “stupid” is an ableist word, and I’ve also been struggling to explain why. At some point I’ll write about that in more detail. I have not yet been able to do so, so this is not that post.

But I want to address something else that I see in your question. I think that, to an extent, what you are asking is more along the lines of:

  • Everyone is telling me a word I use is a bad word
  • I have something to say that I think is important
  • I can’t say it without using that word
  • And I can’t explain why that word is important
  • And people are upset with me
  • Is it ok for me to keep using the word anyway, or should I shut up about the thing until I can explain why I need that word?

And my answer here is:

I think that it is almost never a good idea to give up using a word that you feel like you need. I think you should probably keep using that word, unless you are able to find an alternative that still allows you to communicate the concept that is important to you.

Sometimes when people feel overly attached to a bad word because they are attached to expressing the bigotry associated with that word. If you’re worried that might be the case with you, work on addressing that. If that’s the problem, becoming less bigoted will probably make you less inclined to use the word anyway. If you stay bigoted, changing the word you use is unlikely to help.

You can’t avoid this issue by just saying that you don’t mean it that way. It has to actually be true. And, if you’re using a word that a lot of people object to, it’s worth considering whether you’re actually saying something worse than you think you’re saying.

That said, sometimes bigotry or hatred has nothing to do with why you feel like you need a word other people want you to stop saying. Sometimes you feel like you need the word *because you actually do*. Take that possibility seriously; don’t let people pressure you out of communicating.

And, as you consider these things, keep in mind the difference between basic morality and personal piety.

There may be worthwhile attempts to move away from certain words that you are not in a position to participate in, because you might not be able to give up those words without damaging your communication.

I think that people should use whatever words they need to use in order be able to communicate.

Words matter. But communication matters more. Don’t give up words you depend on to communicate clearly lightly.

It takes more than etymology to make a slur

Do you think words with etymologies based on oppression (like “idiot” or “hysterical”) but are no longer used that way now should be considered slurs? Do you think most people consider them slurs? I’ve heard some compelling arguments for why they should be treated like slurs, but I’ve also heard some good reasons for why they shouldn’t be, and it’s all very confusing.
realsocialskills answered:
I don’t think etymology is important. I think what’s important is how a word is used.
If something is used as a slur, then it’s a slur even if it has a neutral etymology. (People try to argue that the r-word isn’t a slur because it literally just means slow. Those people are wrong.)
If something is not used as a slur, then it’s not one even if it has an etymology based on oppression or hate. (For instance: “autism” has an etymology based on dehumanizing autistic people, but it’s not a slur.)
This gets complicated because sometimes people will claim that something “isn’t a slur anymore” even when it clearly is. If people the word is used against think it’s still a slur, then it’s a slur even if some people think they “don’t mean it that way”. (The g-word is a good example of this.)
I think that there are also words that are somewhat tainted by oppressive etymologies or connotations. It can be worthwhile to personally try to avoid using those words. (I avoid some, but not all, tainted words for that reason). But it’s dangerous to treat these words as actually being the same as slurs. One reason it’s important not to do this is that it causes serious problems for people with language disabilities. This is a good example of the importance of understanding the difference between personal piety and basic morality.

Rhetorical might doesn’t make right

Not knowing how to articulate something doesn’t mean you are wrong.

Being elequoent doesn’t mean you are right.

Making someone look stupid doesn’t mean you are right.

Words are tools. They aren’t everything. They aren’t all of knowledge either.

So if someone tells you something that sounds plausible, and they’ve articulated it well, you still might know they are wrong even if you have no words for it.

They might try to intimidate you into agreeing by insisting that if you can’t give a clear explicit answer, then you must just be too irrational to accept a valid argument. But, it doesn’t work that way. Knowing something is not the same as knowing how to use words to describe that thing.

Words are very useful tools for communication. But being good at words just means being good at words. Don’t conflate it with being right, being insightful, or being exceptionally rational. Those are separate issues.

Where slurs come from

Slurs have power because of how they’re used and what it evokes when someone says them. Not because groups have decided to be offended by them. Target groups don’t give slurs power; the weight of historical and current use gives them power.

Words mean things.

The n-word is a slur because it has always been used to say that black people aren’t really human and to incite violence. That is what that word means when it’s said by someone who isn’t black. You can’t say that word as a nonblack person without invoking that meaning to some extent or other, even if you don’t mean to. That’s not a meaning black people give the word. That’s a meaning that white people created.

Likewise the r-word, especially in noun form. (It’s not always a slur in adjective form, but it always evokes the slur a bit, so it’s better to use a different word if you can). It’s a slur because what it means is someone who isn’t really a whole person because their brain doesn’t work right. That’s not a meaning folks with disabilities are imagining in order to feel offended, and it’s not a meaning they can get away from by deciding not to be offended.

Calling someone a slur means something. It’s a threat. And an implied threat to other people in that group.

Other people can feel how they want about it, but how they feel won’t erase the fact that someone saying a slur is making a threat. Feelings don’t erase violence and threats of violence.

Being allowed to do hard things

Mel Baggs added to the post on “Some things about speech“:

I used to have a really hard time convincing people that sometimes lack of speech wasn’t overload or shutdown (or as psychiatry so inaccurately put it, ~anxiety~ or ~dissociation~), but rather just being myself.

And that far from always being a result of stress, speech caused me stress and lack of speech meant I was less stressed.

I knew the autism expert I saw was no expert when I heard her tell me that if we reduced my anxiety, I wouldn’t have to rely on my keyboard so much. Later on I found out she believed meltdowns and shutdowns were not sensory at all but rather ~off task behavior~, ~manipulation~, and ~tantrums~… And I lost my last shred of respect for her.

Also, even when it *is* the result of stress, that doesn’t necessarily mean that something is *wrong*.

Sometimes it just means that life is happening. Like, when I’m doing hard things, my speech gets worse. When I’m working a lot, I look more conspicuously autistic.

This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t work or study or do hard things. It’s important for us to be allowed to do hard things, and to be allowed to be stressed and have lives. Stress is part of life.

Sometimes people try to put us in bubbles where we don’t ever do anything hard or stressful. And take any autistic sign of stress as an indication that something is wrong. And that things need to be lighter and softer and less substantive.

Those places are not good and they are not understanding or accepting. They are hell on earth.

Some things about speech

Sometimes people have speech at some times, but not others.

Sometimes people have very fluid fluent speech sometimes, and choppy forced slow speech at other times.

Sometimes when people can’t speak, or have trouble speaking, it’s because something is wrong. Sometimes it’s because they’re stressed, or overloaded, or forgot how because they’re frozen and need help getting unfrozen. Or because they’ve pushed themselves too far and are just too exhausted to function.

But losing speech, or losing fluent speech, is not always like that. Being in a mode where speech is difficult or impossible is not always a sign that something is going wrong. For some people, that’s just a mode they can be in, sometimes.

It can mean they are prioritizing different things, putting more resources into thinking rather than speaking. It can mean they are in a more sensory mode rather than a WORDS WORDS WORDS mode. It can mean they’re interacting, and that it’s about presence and not conversation. Or any number of other things.

To make a somewhat flawed analogy: People don’t usually speak during movies. When people aren’t speaking during movies, it’s not because something is wrong. It’s because they’re doing a different thing.

It’s important to know that both of these things exist. That sometimes lack of speech or difficult speech means something is wrong, but sometimes it means something is right.

Some words can apply broadly

Is it wrong for me, as a neurotypical person (AFAIK, there have been hints that I might have something undiagnosed), to use terminology coigned by atypical people? The way f’example stimming and overloading have been explained to me describe things that I do and the reasons behind them really well, but I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to call them that.
realsocialskills answered:
Most people who stim a lot and get overloaded a lot are autistic. Most. Not all. Some people with ADHD also experiencing stimming and overload. So do some neurotypical blind people. So do other folks.
Overload and stimming are words that describe particular experiences, not a particular diagnosis.
If you have those experiences, it’s ok to use the words.

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.