Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: July 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: July 2013 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

This month included several posts on heavy topics like privilege, prejudice, and being an ally. I also talked about where I'm striving to do better in my marriage, shared my thoughts on God's plans (or not) for my life, and wrote a special post for my little sister's 16th birthday. Perhaps because this isn't my typical fare, I had fewer comments than usual for the month. But I can still share my favorites!

I wrote about Finding the Other Extreme -- people who are too liberal even for me -- and Becca shared her own similar experiences:
When I was in high school in small-town Oklahoma, my journalism teacher told me, "One of the great things about going to college will be that you won't be the most liberal person you know!" I bet this would have been true even if I'd gone to a state U. At the college I did attend, I heard some views so liberal I'd never thought they existed! For example, I'd always been told, "There is no such thing as pro-abortion. We are pro-choice." but at my college there were a few people who really did believe that most pregnancies should be aborted for the sake of women's liberation, population control, and reveling in the "fact" that there is no God and no such thing as objective morality; they eventually stomped out of the Association for Reproductive Rights to form their own group, which was a relief. I also met women who believed that all women should be lesbians who never engage in any penetrative activity because "all penetration is rape." Yowza. I felt like a moderate by comparison!

On the other hand, one of the first people I met at college was a Southern Baptist who was "conservative" in most ways but was angry to see a synagogue with a pro-Israel banner; he had a friend of Palestinian ancestry and understood that the Palestinians had some valid points, too, which was something I realized I'd never even considered. I had no idea how right-wing my view on the subject was until I met this right-winger whose view *on that* was to the left of mine. :-)

I wrote a guest post for Michelle DeRusha talking about How to Show Grace in Your Marriage, and loved the responses from her readers.

Jillie shared her much more experienced perspective:
Well, my first thought here, after 37 years of marriage, is that getting into an 'exchange' over unfed pets...just ain't worth it. How many times my husband and I have left the house 'slightly ticked off' with each other over one of these lesser issues. It only serves to put both of us on edge and feel a tad lousy toward one another. Then, at some point in the evening, one has to swallow pride and make the move to apologize. It's just way more work than it's worth, amen? It's taken me years, and I mean years, to figure out what's worth it and what isn't. Every single day we have opportunity to strike up a 'discussion' (or more than one) about something that’s upset us. It really is true that we must learn to pick our battles. And often we find, upon hindsight, that what cheesed us off, was really very minor to begin with. Showing grace and forgiveness is always the higher, and better road to take. Thanks Michelle, for introducing Jessica to us. This was good.

And Gaby got why this was so important:
I like this: "A lack of everyday grace can cause just as much damage to a relationship over time as one large act of betrayal." You know how if you put a rock under a dripping faucet, even that one drop of water every few second will erode the rock eventually? I think more marriages break up over the steady dripping that erodes the relationship than over one major betrayal or explosion. Most people understand that infidelity, for example, can destroy their marriage but they don't recognize the every day small things that brick by brick build a wall between them. Thank you for the reminder, Jessica.

The post that probably struck the biggest chord with you all this month was Does God Have One Right Job in Mind for Me?

Queen of Carrots said, in part:
You have put it very well here. I don't find it at all reassuring to think of God micromanaging my life, good, bad, and indifferent--more crazy-making, searching for meaning in every insignificant thing. How about, "You're a smart person and if you keep working at it, chances are, you'll find your niche." It doesn't have the fairy-tale ending, but it's *true.*

Rachel provided a larger view of God's plan:
I think there's a big difference between your vocation (what God is calling you to do with your life) and your job. I used to think they had to line up perfectly or my life would be less meaningful and less pleasing to God. Now, having been at a job that doesn't have much to do at all with my vocation for several years, I've realized that I can always pursue my vocation no matter what my job is, and that pretty much any job can help me learn skills that I can apply to my vocation.

God is with you, no matter how this shakes out. There's nowhere you can go to escape God, who is with you when things feel perfect and when they feel all wrong (to paraphrase Psalm 139:8).

And DarkLight pointed out some of the problems with this way of thinking:
This way of thinking also makes it a lot easier to lock ourselves into one path. If God has just the right job out there for you, will you consider staying home with kids, or going out on a mission field? If God has the perfect spouse out there, will you consider that marriage isn't everyone's path? And what do you do in the meantime - are you missing what you could be doing here and now while you're trying to find God's job or spouse or whatever for you? It's a dangerous business to put our hopes and dreams onto God's will.

I got a variety of reactions to Taking Affirmative Action on My Daily Reading, and appreciated Nikkiana's thoughts:
This is a really interesting exercise and one that I might take the time to try out (though, I follow so many people it might end up being an all day exercise... Eep!).

However, I do know that my reading within the past couple of years has diversified greatly, particularly along racial lines. I think largely because I now live in a neighborhood that's predominantly Latino and/or black, and finding myself living somewhere where I'm a part of the racial minority has ended up challenging a lot of the unconscious biases I've held.

I promise to mix up the topics a bit more as we move into August. Suggestions for things you'd like my thoughts on are always welcome!

Allies, Education, and Tone Policing

Friday, July 26, 2013

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Allies, Education, and Tone Policing | Faith Permeating Life

As you may have noticed, a lot of my posts recently have centered around being an ally: how not to be an ally, how to navigate contradictory advice about being an ally, and how what I read every day affects my ability to be an ally. This is because I've been spending a lot of time reflecting on my own words and actions and becoming more aware of how my own privilege affects my daily life.

I've also been in a lot of conversations with other people who want to become better allies, which has given me the occasion to think about how I want to support other people who want to be allies, particularly men who genuinely want to better understand the experience of people who are not male in a patriarchal society. I've also spent a lot of time in the feminist blogosphere and noticed the ways space is made (or not) for these wannabe allies. What follows is primarily directed to other women who also write about male privilege and the experience of being a woman.

I have a lot of thoughts, but a good place to start is with this conversation I had on Twitter yesterday with Emily Maynard, Alyssa Bacon-Liu, and Danielle Vermeer. (I suggest taking time to read it.)

It began with Emily saying (in response, I believe, to a blog discussion about "modesty rules"):
I guess I'm noticing a difference between men who say, "whoa, I didn't know, can you explain more?" & those who are all "PROVE IT TO ME NOW"
This second group falls under the "When Is an Ally Not an Ally?" group I described a few weeks ago -- you can tell that they don't actually want to learn because no matter what evidence you provide to say that something is harmful, problematic, or offensive, they will try to invalidate it or derail the conversation.

The tricky thing is that what looks like the first group (people who genuinely want to learn and be better) can sometimes turn out to be the second group. Captain Awkward, the advice columnist, has run into several situations where someone writes in saying, "Can you help me better understand this about the women in my life?" and then proceeds to respond to every piece of advice with arguments, defensiveness, and attempts to invalidate the viewpoints of actual women. Oftentimes someone who pleads a lack of understanding will turn out to have no interest in actually gaining more understanding; they're just looking for an opportunity to tell you you're wrong.

So I get that someone who deals with this kind of bait-and-switch over and over when trying to have conversations about privilege and sexism can end up being suspicious of anyone who professes to want to learn more or understand better.

I have found myself in this kind of situation before. Even though I perhaps have more patience (or have been burned less) than some people, and will generally try to help people understand something until I'm convinced they're not actually interested in understanding, I have learned that sometimes I just have to refuse to engage. This is not just in the comment sections of other people's blogs and Facebook posts, but direct replies to me on Twitter or in my own blog comments. If I sense at all that you're not actually interested in learning without being defensive, I may just choose to ignore you.

Another option I've employed is to point the person to other resources (or to the Internet generally) and tell them that I'm willing to have a conversation once they've taken the time to read more about the issue on their own. This is particularly the case where I might run the risk of speaking for another group and would rather point someone to a first-person resource that explains why something is offensive or problematic.

What I've tried to avoid doing is attacking somebody for asking questions, particularly if they're asking for clarification on something I said. And again, maybe I'm able to do this because I haven't been involved in so many bait-and-switch conversations that I view everyone who asks questions as trolls who just want to tell me my arguments are invalid.

I mentioned above that Captain Awkward has been burned a number of times by questioners like this, and this led to her writing a biting response to a reader (another man with a question about approaching women) that she subsequently apologized for. She's since said she just won't take on any questions like this again.

Here's where I jumped into the conversation with Emily, and I want to be careful (based on a distinction later offered by Alyssa) to note that I'm not trying to say how any individual person should handle any specific situation. But I can't help but get frustrated that I often see people who I genuinely think want to learn and understand getting yelled at for daring to ask questions.

As I said to Alyssa, I'm not talking about situations where someone approaches a person, especially a person who's a member of a marginalized group, out of the blue and says, "Hey, explain to me why this is offensive/problematic/whatever." As has been explained countless times elsewhere, this is problematic because 1) you're expecting someone to take time out of their day to educate you when they've given no indication they want to do so, and 2) you're asking someone to speak for an entire group. And in the case of someone who's a member of a marginalized group, there's a likelihood that this person has had to answer this question for many other people as well, which puts the burden of educating a bunch of privileged people on someone who is already dealing with systemic obstacles, cultural biases, and other disadvantages. And that's not cool.

But I'm talking about situations where someone has already elected to put their viewpoint out there in a blog post, a comment, a tweet, whatever, to help other people understand better. These are the forums that are generally intended for dialogue and learning. And then someone else comes along and replies that they don't understand or want clarification on something.

Maybe they genuinely want to learn, and maybe they're one of the above-mentioned trolls who just wants to pick a fight to show that the original arguments are invalid. What frustrates me is that both groups are often treated the same way, getting an angry response along the lines of, "HOW DARE YOU! YOU'RE A TERRIBLE PERSON! IT'S NOT MY JOB TO EDUCATE YOU!"

I had an experience recently of being part of a discussion of (all white) people talking about why some particular things were racist. I was confused about one of the arguments made and asked a question about why that particular thing was considered racist. Unfortunately two other people followed up by basically saying, "Yeah! That's not racist at all, and neither are these other things!" The following commenter, also self-identified as white, apparently interpreted my original question in light of these responses (addressing her response to "Jessica and all those who agree with her") and proceeded to tear into me for even attempting to question the original argument.

I was completely taken aback by such a vicious response to what I intended to be a genuine request for clarification, but I felt that I couldn't say anything but "Thank you" or else be attacked further for trying to "tone police" the discussion.

So is saying all this stuff, about not attacking men who want to learn more, considered tone policing? Maybe. Tone policing is a derailing technique in which you refuse to engage with someone's arguments by insisting that the way they're saying them makes them wrong. Most often you'll see some variation of the argument, "If ____ wasn't so angry/whiny/etc., I could take their arguments seriously." This was exemplified by a recent post called "Are Christian Feminists Hurting Their Cause?" that was beautifully parodied by Dianna E. Anderson and analyzed by Katz at Chimaera.

A lot of the issues surrounding privilege, power, abuse, and the various -isms are really terrible things that are completely reasonable to get angry about and to let that anger show in how you talk and write about them, and doing so does not by itself mean that you are wrong. This is essence of calling out tone policing -- reminding others that they can't invalidate someone else's argument just because they don't like how it was said or because they got their feelings hurt.

On the other hand, as I've said before, there's a difference between calling out a problem and attacking an individual. Being angry that sexism exists, and pointing out specific examples of sexism that make you angry, might make people uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean you should stop doing it. However, I personally think there's a difference between getting angry at someone who does something sexist and getting angry at someone who wants to understand your thoughts on sexism better so they can be less sexist.

Again, I don't want to presume to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn't say or do. But I want to put it out there for consideration and discussion that some people who ask questions truly want to be allies, and that if you can't tell what someone's motives are, you have the option of not engaging or telling them to educate themselves on their own time without assuming their intentions and personally attacking them. It's not your job or obligation to education anyone, but if you're writing because you want to help people better understand your experience and become a better ally, then it seems to me that keeping an eye out among the trolls for the people who are trying to learn to be an ally is a worthwhile endeavor.

Introducing A Very Special 16-Year-Old

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

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Introducing A Very Special 16-Year-Old | Faith Permeating Life

Today is an important day in my family -- it's my dad's and my sister's birthday! Yep, my sister was born just after midnight on my dad's birthday.

With apologies to my dad, I want to take a post to talk about my sister on this very special occasion of her 16th birthday.

As you might have gathered, my sister is more than a decade younger than me. And you guys, she is awesome. As in, I am in awe of her and the maturity and grace with which she conducts her life.

About a year ago she gave the go-ahead to my parents to move from Chicago to be with my mom's family in Seattle, even though this meant my sister would have to start at a brand-new high school for her junior year. They were going to wait until she graduated, but she said she was happy to move the following summer. And so last month, they did.

When I graduated high school, I was terrified of going to college and having to make new friends for the first time since middle school. (Not that I didn't get some new friends in high school, but they were typically made by other people first and then absorbed into our giant friend-blob.) The only reason I was able to do it was because I knew all my friends were also graduating and leaving for different parts of the country.

My sister? Makes new friends easily. It's not like she was happy to cut and run because she was lonely and sad where she was. She was just mature enough to know that she'd be able to make new friends at her new school. And to know that her old friendships would survive on a steady diet of texting, Facebook, and Instagram as long as they put the effort into it.

Coming as she did almost a decade after both me and my brother, my sister has had to put up with constant comparisons her entire life. As she grew up, there was the question hanging over her of whether she'd turn out to be a "brain" like me or a star athlete like my brother. The answer? Neither. Despite the pressure on her, she forged her own path to be a completely awesome person in her own right with a flair for creativity, getting into videography, doing crafts, and most recently performing in a school show with her best friend a short piece that they wrote together about the pressures put on teenage girls.

Even though my sister managed to avoid following in my footsteps (I'll admit I joined my mom for a bit in pushing her to try speech team, which was possibly the best part of my high school experience, but she resisted), she apparently did manage to pick up some lessons from me. I remember the time she told me with a note of exasperation that she wasn't interested in dating anyone because "Dating in middle school is a stupid idea," which was apparently something she'd learned from my mishaps. Even if someone had shared cautionary tales with me at that age, I doubt I would have had the wisdom to listen.

At my cousin's wedding last fall, another cousin asked my sister about her future hopes and dreams for marriage. My sister said she had no plans to get married. She then made it clear that while she's not opposed to getting married, finding a partner is by no means a necessary part of her life plan. Even though I went through a "I want to be single forever" phase (that ended quickly upon meeting Mike), it was more reactionary: "I'm tired of chasing guys and am better off on my own!" My sister, at 15, had a much calmer and more reasonable view of her life: Having a partner is unnecessary for me to be happy in life. She was clear that she did want to have kids someday, and while I can't say I'm a cheerleader for my sister becoming a single mother (especially anytime soon!), I admire that she recognized that none of her life goals, including being a mother, should be dependent on finding a life partner.

When Mike and I got married, everyone asked if my sister (who turned 12 a week before the wedding) was going to be a junior bridesmaid. I told them no, she was going to be a bridesmaid. "Junior" bridesmaid implies someone who needs hand-holding and doesn't get to participate in most of the regular bridal party activities. My sister did everything my other bridesmaids did -- came to my bachelorette party (an admittedly tame one involving a photo shoot, Italian dinner, and a movie), walked down the aisle with a groomsman, rode in the limo with the other attendants, participated in group pictures before the reception, and sat at the head table. And let me tell you -- that girl can hold her own. I had my matron of honor keeping an eye on her, but she was fine, just rolled with the punches and did what everyone else did.

My sister and I are very different people, and I think she probably finds me old and boring most of the time, especially compared to my energetic and hilarious husband. However, I'm happy that we share some interests. She became an enthusiastic reader later in life than I did, but now we are able to trade book recommendations and discuss books we've both read. Lending her The Fault in Our Stars meant her introduction to John Green books and subsequently to all of Nerdfighteria. That led her to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and we watched one of the last episodes together, sharing her earbuds, when she was visiting on her spring break. We both love board games, and most recently she developed an obsession with Settlers of Catan to rival mine and Mike's. I love that we are able to have interests that span our age gap.

Thanks for letting me take some time to brag on my sister. I'm incredibly proud of the person she's become and feel very blessed to have her as my sister. Happy 16th birthday, little sis!

Taking Affirmative Action on My Daily Reading

Friday, July 19, 2013

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Taking Affirmative Action on My Daily Reading | Faith Permeating Life

The last week or so has brought more of my attention to issues like systemic racism, ableism, and other issues that I don't tend to focus my attention on as much as some issues. And to an extent, that's OK -- as I've said many times before, we have limited time, energy, and resources, and we can't be the champion of every cause. However, I can still take steps to educate myself so that I don't say or do problematic things in my day-to-day life. And I want to be mindful of intersectionality, so when I'm speaking out on one issue I'm not doing so in a limited way that is hurtful or even damaging to others.

As I wrote about earlier this week, sometimes I come across contradictions about what is helpful vs. offensive. But in talking with some other people offline this week, I had to reiterate that these kinds of instances (where large swaths of a single group have directly contradictory opinions about what they need from their allies) are fairly rare. And in many cases, getting caught up in these kinds of details can be a way of distracting one from larger issues at play.

So for instance, I wrote about how I saw disagreement among people of color about whether white people should speak out and condemn the killing of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of his killer, or whether they should only "quietly boost voices of color," as one person said.

Focusing on this disagreement, however, can distract from the fact that both groups agree that white folks should be sharing what people of color have to say about the incident; they only disagree about whether white people should also add their voices to the fray.

And this points to a much larger, more important issue, which is that if white people aren't regularly reading "voices of color," they're not going to have anyone to boost. At most, you see people sharing that one same article by that one black person that their other white friends shared with them. And as we've already discussed, there is enough diversity within any one group that a single viewpoint cannot possibly speak for everyone who needs to be heard.

So here's where I turn the finger around and point it at myself.

I like to think I expose myself to a variety of viewpoints (this is one of the central reasons I blog and read other blogs) and that this helps me keep an open mind and help me continue to seek truth. But I'm a very statistically minded person, and wherever something has the ability to be supported or disproved with data, I want to see the numbers.

With this in mind, I undertook a diversity study of my own feed subscriptions.

Briefly, for anyone who cares about the details: I analyzed the sites (primarily blogs) I have in my feed reader and the people I follow on Twitter. (There's a lot of overlap.) I excluded the few sites and Twitter accounts that represented an organization rather than an individual. I also ignored any blog or Twitter account that hadn't updated in the last six months. (I have a "rarely updated" folder in my RSS reader for people I'd want to read if they ever started blogging again.) This worked out to 50 blogs and 38 Twitter users that I read on a regular basis.

For each person I attempted to discern their gender, race, ability (mental illness, physical disability, or none), country of residence, religion, sexual orientation, and if they were cisgender or trans*. I left out class, education, and other factors that are important but were impossible to discern for most people.

It was easier than I expected to gather the remaining information on most people -- bloggers are even more open about their lives than I realized. In cases where I couldn't discern something, I assigned the majority designation to the person. (Normally I do not advocate the majority being seen as the "default," but in this case I was specifically interested in the extent to which I was exposing myself to alternative voices from my own.) The exception was religion, where I made a note of "unknown" if it was something they'd never mentioned.

So here are the stats I came up with for the people I read regularly:
Gender: Bloggers I read are 80% female, 20% male. Twitter users I follow are 50% female, 50% male.

Ability: Among bloggers I read, 64% have neither a mental illness nor a physical disability of any kind, or else they've never written about it. Similarly, 66% of Twitter users I follow share my current able-bodiedness and lack of mental illness.

Country: 94% of the bloggers I read currently live in the United States, as do 92% of the Twitter users I follow.

Religion: Of the bloggers I read, 10% are Roman Catholics, 52% are other Christians, 10% are agnostic, 10% are atheists, and 18% I have no idea. Of the people I follow on Twitter, 29% are Roman Catholics, 55% are other Christians, 3% are agnostic, 3% are atheists, and 10% I don't know.

Sexual Orientation: 78% of bloggers I read identify as straight, while 82% of the Twitter users I follow do.

Cis/Trans: 96% of the bloggers I read are cisgender, as are 100% of the Twitter users I follow.
And the kicker:
94% of the bloggers I read are white, and 97% of the Twitter users I follow are white. The rest are Asian/Middle Eastern.
Does this affect my worldview, my awareness of my own privilege, and what I tend to share with others? You bet it does.

The point is not that I need to hit some sort of quota or specific distribution in each of these categories. The point is that my understanding of the world and the articles that I tend to promote to others are drawn from what I read on a regular basis.

I was already aware of the "agenda-setting bias" of newspapers telling me what I should pay attention to, but I wasn't thinking about the lack of diversity among the voices I do read on a daily basis causing the same kind of problem. Saying that I share the articles and retweet the tweets I do solely because "they express ideas the best" is to ignore the pool that I'm drawing from. It's like a hiring committee that insists they only hire the most qualified applicants and that the best applications just happen to be white men most of the time, while ignoring that they only advertise the position in a handful of places frequented primarily by white men.

And perhaps even important: The "whiteness" of my reading list tells me that I probably have an underlying bias about whom I subscribe to or follow. After all, I know that there are people I follow who recommend other bloggers/Twitter users of a variety of races and ethnicities. This means that there is probably an unconscious part of my brain saying, "Oh, this person is black/Hispanic/etc, so what they say won't be relevant to me."

Since running these numbers a few days ago, I've taken steps to correct the imbalances in my feeds, particularly by including more people of color and transgender people. This doesn't mean tokenism, which is something like, "I will add this person solely because they are black." It means recognizing and being aware of that underlying bias I just described, so when someone I follow or subscribe to recommends someone else, I follow/subscribe to them and read them for a while before deciding whether they're providing me with valuable information. (I also try to regularly trim my feeds of all the people I'm not gaining something from so I can devote my limited time and energy to those I learn most from.)

I invite you to try something similar with your own regular reading sources. Even if you don't agree with my assessment of underlying bias or the need to take steps to correct such a bias, it's still valuable to know which voices are most strongly represented in your reading and which are absent altogether.

What groups are most strongly represented in the blogs, Twitter feeds, or other sources you read regularly? What might this say about how you decide who is worth reading/following? How might this be shaping your worldview?

Thoughts from a Privileged Person, Part 2

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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Walk Don't Walk Sign

One summer I had an editing internship at a publishing company, which was a dream come true for an editing nerd like me. The first day I was given a house style guide, which I read carefully and then kept on my desk for reference. For those not familiar, there are standard style guides (like AP, APA, MLA, Chicago), and then each organization will create its own in-house style guide to deal with exceptions to the standard style and with issues that arise commonly in their particular publications.

I was assigned to work with the senior copy editor, and things quickly went downhill. When she gave me a practice editing test, I dutifully followed the house style guide by changing each instance of "might" to "may." The senior editor marked this incorrect and changed all instance of "may" to "might." When I confusedly showed her the style guide, she said that was outdated and not how they did things anymore. So on the next piece she gave me, I carefully changed all instances of "may" to "might," as she had done. Again, she told me I did it wrong.

This was a pattern that repeated itself for most of the rest of the summer. She'd correct my editing and tell me we always did things one way, but if I did it that way, she'd mark it wrong. If I asked her to clarify why this instance was different than the last time, she'd get angry and tell me to stop questioning her judgment.

As you can imagine, this was incredibly frustrating for me because 1) good editing values consistency above almost anything else and 2) I was there to learn, which was hard to do when the rules kept changing.

I wrote previously asking for grace when wannabe allies initially use wrong language. (I followed this up by explaining that how you react to accidentally offending someone says more about whether you're an ally than the language you originally use.) But as I educate myself more and more and get deeper into the feminist/activist community, I'm sometimes running up against contradictory advice about how to be an ally from the people I'm wanting to be an ally to.

For example, it's been drilled into me that person-first language is vital to avoid being offensive to people with disabilities. But now I'm learning that some people find person-first language problematic or offensive. Michael Scott Monje, Jr. even goes so far as to say, "I don't think it's productive to respect the wishes of parents or autistic adults that want to use person-first language."

So now I feel stuck; if I refer to "autistic people" I'm going to offend people and if I refer to "people with autism" I'm going to offend people.

I'm hesitant to even write about this because I know some people are going to say, "Well, boohoo, this isn't about you and your privileged feelings." So I want to make it clear that my point is not, "Oh, poor me, using inclusive language is so difficult." My point is this: I am here, I genuinely want to be an ally and learn the rules and use whatever language is appropriate, and I legitimately don't know how to navigate this situation. And all the research I've done on my own has turned up these contradictions but no guidance for handling them.

Whenever I've brought up situations like this before ("black" vs. "African American" vs. "person of color" is another case where I've heard strong arguments from offended people on all sides), the response I get is usually, "Just ask the person what they prefer." And I agree, if you're talking/writing about a particular person, that it's incredibly important to respect their personal identity choices.

The problem is that there's not always "a person" in the situation. Sometimes out of necessity you're writing about a group of people who share some common characteristic, and there's no way to account for every person's particular preference. This is particularly true for a writer like me who wants to use my platform to educate people like me about their privilege and thus has to refer to broad groups of people by their particular characteristics.

For example, on a recent Radiolab podcast they interviewed a woman who identifies as "Negro" and does not like the term "black"; one of her daughters identifies as black and one as white. But when talking generally about people who identify with or are perceived as a particular racial identity, the host used the term "black." He was talking about a large group of people and had to choose one word to describe them, and he (I think rightly) decided that using the word "Negro" would be more likely to offend people, even though that is how the particular woman who was interviewed identifies.

So while I understand the impulse, I don't think "Just ask the person" works in every situation, which brings me back to trying to navigate this as someone who wants to be an ally.

Perhaps even trickier to navigate (and where the "just ask the person" really doesn't apply) is when it comes to taking action, as I cannot simultaneously do and not do something.

Another example: When Trayvon Martin was killed, I saw a lot of messages on Twitter and Facebook from people of color (there's that necessary collective descriptor again) who were angry that white people (ditto) did not seem to be speaking out about the situation very much. They said they saw only other people of color talking about it and that the most any white person was doing was retweeting those people, not using their own position of privilege to condemn the killing. Although personally I felt that I'd seen a lot of white people speaking out about it, I followed my own rules and listened and believed the people who were saying that more white people needed to speak out about it.

When the "not guilty" verdict was handed down to Trayvon's killer on Saturday, I got on Twitter ready to express how outraged I was about it. Then I saw Captain Awkward had retweeted a tweet from @SnarkysMachine that said, "White 'allies' if you're doing anything but quietly signal boosting voices of color you're doing it wrong. Tonite is not about you."

Again, I felt like I'd been handed a pop quiz I was doomed to fail: "You want to be an ally to people of color! What do you do in this situation?"

The truth, of course, is that there is no right answer because every community I could want to be an ally to is made up of diverse people who each have their own beliefs about what they most need.

Because of this, I know (from what I've been told) that it's wrong to ask any one person to speak for their entire community. But then I get frustrated when people do try to speak for their entire community. Like Monje, Jr. saying that I should listen only to him and not respect the people who want to be called "people with autism." Or SnarkysMachine telling me I'm "doing it wrong" if I listen to other people of color telling me they want to hear more white voices speaking out.

In most cases, the right thing to do is more clear-cut -- when 95% or 100% of people in a community tell me that doing or saying something is offensive, you can believe I'm not going to do or say that. But I'm struggling with how to navigate the situations where the right thing, the "ally thing" to do, is not as straightforward.

Again, I want to be clear that this is not about me and my feelings. I am not looking for people to say, "You're right, this is super-hard, so just do your best and try not to feel too bad about it." I want to know, how do you suggest I best navigate this situation?

I am particularly interested in hearing from people who identify a certain way or want allied support in a way that they know other people in their particular group do not. Other than saying, "Follow my advice and not this other person's advice," what suggestions do you have for how someone can navigate this situation in a way that respects you and others?

Does God Have One Right Job in Mind for Me?

Friday, July 12, 2013

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Does God Have a Job in Mind for Me? | Faith Permeating Life

When I shared what not to say to a friend going through a tough time, I mentioned how annoying it is when people offer certainties about things they can't actually be sure about (as in, "I'm sure you'll find the right partner soon" or "I'm sure your business deal will go through.")

Now that I've been back on the job hunt again, I've realized that there is an insidious faith-based spin on this: the "God will..." or "God must..." tactic.

"I'm sure God will heal you from this disease."

"God must have someone special in mind for you."

"I'm sure God will bless you with many children."

And so, when my most recent job rejection happened (which was a surprise and a major blow -- apparently I impressed them too much and they thought the job wouldn't be challenging enough for me), I had a whole bunch of people tell me, "God must have a specific job in mind for you, and I'm sure you'll get it soon."

I can't believe this. I don't want to believe this.

There are a few problems with this "God is directing your job search" idea.

First, I had a horrible experience with my last job, even though, as you might remember, I thought it was the perfect job for me. Was God carefully guiding that job search? If so, either God was incredibly cruel to want me in that job, or I managed to miss all the signs steering me away from it. If every job I get is pre-ordained by God, then God doesn't seem to care very much about my mental and emotional well-being. And if I just completely screwed up and missed God's guidance, who's to say that couldn't happen again?

Second, the "one right job" idea is just as problematic as the "one right person" idea in dating. PerfectNumber628 has written several posts on why this idea is problematic in the realm of dating. Essentially: Only one of the seven billion people out there is truly compatible with you, and you're supposed to just find them? And even if you believe God is going to bring that person to you, that means you have to evaluate each person you meet not just as "Would I like to spend more time with this person?" but "Is this the soul mate God has brought me?" And every relationship problem becomes not, "Is this relationship still what I want out of a relationship?" but "Is this a sign from God that we should break up?" That's a lot of pressure!

Similarly, when I start believing there's one right job out there that God wants me to have, every job posting has that much more pressure on it. It's hard enough trying to figure out "Is this a job I'd be interested in? Am I qualified for this job? How much time would working and commuting to this job take per week?" but when I throw in, "Are there signs that God wants me in this job?" it becomes even more ambiguous and stressful.

And then the worst part is when I start thinking, "This really feels right. This feels like where I'm meant to be," and then I get turned down for the job! If God really has a job in mind for me, then I clearly have no idea how to figure out what that is, because I keep getting it wrong!

Also, this kind of thinking puts more importance on the job I end up in than I think it really deserves. I appreciated that my counselor continually stressed that whatever decision I made about a job or career path was something I was doing "for now." I'd like to find a job I can be in long term, but I may decide to cut back when we have kids or move somewhere else if a different opportunity comes along. I may decide to stop applying for a while and focus on my freelance work, and I want the flexibility to say, "This isn't working" and start applying again. But if I feel like this is my God-ordained job, that seems to take my own agency and ability to make changes to my life out of the equation.

And along the same lines, if I take "God is directing your job search" to its logical conclusion, then it seems like I could just stop everything I'm doing -- applying to jobs, networking, telling people what I'm looking for -- and eventually someone will magically offer me the job where God wants me to be. Somehow it doesn't seem right that I just sit on my butt and say I'm waiting for God's chosen job to show up.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's possible for God to guide someone's job search. When Mike got his job out here, it felt to both of us throughout the entire process that there were giant God-arrows pointing us here, as there were just far too many coincidences and signs to ignore. We are both incredibly happy here, and I think it would be wrong to say that trusting God played no role in his applying for and accepting this job. And I believe pretty strongly that God brought Mike into my life.

But do I believe that this is the only job Mike could have been happy in, or that if I'd never met Mike I necessarily would have never married or had a happy marriage? No.

So to all the people who are sure that God has a particular job in mind for me: I know you mean well, but you're really not making me feel any better. I believe God gave me a lot of wonderful skills and the ability to seek out and apply for jobs, and I believe that God has answered my prayers in helping me to do my absolute best in each of the interviews I've had. But I don't believe I'm on a hunt for the one God-approved job out there for me.

What are your feelings on God having a plan for your work life or love life? Do you find the "one right one" idea reassuring or frustrating?

When Is an Ally Not an Ally?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

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When Is an Ally Not an Ally? | Faith Permeating Life

A while back I wrote some Thoughts from a Privileged Person Writing About Privilege and noted how difficult it can be to use perfectly inclusive language 100% of the time, and how I don't want to completely dismiss or label someone if their writing betrays ignorance or a privileged viewpoint. I want to create space for new allies to screw things up initially without attacking them.

I still believe what I wrote in that post, but I feel I need to make an addendum: While I want to preach grace for those who genuinely want to be allies and haven't learned all the right words yet, I have a much lower tolerance for someone who reacts badly to being called out for offensive language.

I feel this is an extremely important distinction to make. In my journey as an ally to the LGBTQ community, I am grateful to the people who are willing to look past the blunders I make to hear the passion in my heart, and who are willing to gently correct my misunderstandings. In return, I have tried to do the following:
  • Continue to educate myself on my own time, so I make fewer mistakes
  • Apologize sincerely when someone tells me I've said something offensive
  • Ask for clarification if absolutely necessary, and not in a "Please justify that this is actually offensive" way but in a "Please help me not make this mistake again" way
(This is a more detailed version of what I wrote previously about how to be an ally).

This, of course, is the ideal. I'm as susceptible to privileged distress as the next person, and my first reaction may be defensiveness coupled with a strong dose of ugly guilt for having offended other people, feelings that I will want to get rid of.

What I do with those feelings is on me, though. And I now recognize that inappropriate responses look like the following:
  • Trying to explain to the person why the thing isn't actually offensive
  • Trying to force the other person to justify feeling offended
  • Comparing their negative experiences to my own negative experiences
  • Explaining that I didn't intend to be offensive, so they should be less offended
  • Telling them they're overreacting or being mean to me by telling me I'm being offensive

What prompted me to think about this was a recent post from Dianna E. Anderson explaining why she's skeptical of male feminists, particularly those who are white, cisgender, and heterosexual. (Warning: The link contains disturbing language, used by one of these self-proclaimed male feminists.)

She explains that she has had too many experiences with these men who calls themselves feminists and talk about understanding their own privilege, but when it's pointed out to them that they've done something offensive, they get angry and defensive.

I posted Dianna's link in a feminist Facebook group I'm part of and immediately got a multitude of responses from both men and women with examples of when this exact situation has occurred (men who self-identify as feminists but refuse to act in a way affirming to women).

Then what do you think happened?

A (white, heterosexual) man commented that the example in Dianna's article (a "Save Second Base" T-shirt her boyfriend wore) was not actually offensive. Keep in mind that this commenter is someone who is voluntarily a member of this feminist group.

When people responded explaining why it was offensive, he insisted that saying it was offensive was infringing on the right of women who would want to wear the shirt.

When people tried to explain again why it was problematic, he asked for someone to provide him a link explaining what they were talking about.

When people told him there was plenty of information out there he could find himself if he actually wanted to learn more, he said he was just asking and it was unfair to be so hostile to him.

Using the links in those last three paragraphs, I pointed out that he was basically going through the Derailing for Dummies manual point by point and that it was therefore not exactly surprising that people were getting frustrated with him.

At which point, of course, he said that it wasn't his intent to derail or offend anyone.

So basically: Thank you, Internet man, for proving Dianna's point.

If you want to be an ally of any kind, I say awesome. But the test of whether you genuinely want to be an ally, for me, is less about your ability to instantly understand all the inclusive and inoffensive language you should use, and more about how you react when called out on your own language and privilege. Calling other people out on their language does not make you an ally if you don't believe the people who call you out.

Everyday Grace: Striving to Be a Better Partner

Friday, July 5, 2013

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One of the requests I sometimes get is to talk more about my flaws and mistakes. Today I'm sharing one of the ways that I continually struggle to be a good partner to Mike. It's about a default pattern of communication I have that is neither loving nor constructive.

You can find the post over at MichelleDeRusha.com today. It's part of her Friday guest post series during the month of July on the theme of "everyday grace." Be sure to check out the rest of Michelle's blog for great reflections on faith and life!

3BoT Vol. 21: Three Books about Independence

Thursday, July 4, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 21: Three Books about Independence | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

Happy Independence Day to all my readers in the United States! It seemed appropriate that the books I recommend for today have some relationship to this holiday, but I've already recommended three books every American should read. So instead I'm going to seize on the theme of independence, and share three novels that each feature a character striving to achieve greater independence.

One housekeeping note: I am out of town for the Fourth and don't know if I will have Internet access (I'm scheduling this ahead of time), so if you leave comments and don't get a reply for a few days, that's why!

Here are three books exploring the theme of independence:

#1: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
It's been a long time since I've read this book, but I remember Jane as a character very passionate about being an independent person -- something not easily achieved for a woman in the mid-1800s. She stands up for herself when others treat her badly, and she insists on continuing to work and support herself even when events in her life make this no longer necessary. In her relationships with men she makes it clear that she does not want to be dependent but wants to be an equal partner. Jane also has a strong sense of morality that guides her decision-making, and she refuses to compromise her values even when it might serve her own happiness. Even today, female characters are often not portrayed as strong actors in their own lives, so I love having an example from 1847 of a woman who stands for independence.

#2: Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Marcelo is a 17-year-old who has just finished his junior year at Patterson, the special school he loves where he takes classes on things like navigating social interactions, something that doesn't come easily to him. His father, however, insists that Marcelo must learn to function in "the real world," and brings Marcelo to work at his law firm for the summer, on the condition that Marcelo must try to follow the rules of the real world or else be forced to attend the "regular" high school for his senior year. For the first time, Marcelo's daily surroundings are not designed with someone like him in mind. And when he discovers things going on at the law firm that don't seem right to him, he has to make some difficult decisions and compromises. (Note: Don't read this as an audiobook -- I had a difficult time distinguishing when Marcelo was thinking and when he was talking.)

#3: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Thirteen-year-old Anna is seeking a different kind of independence -- she's suing her parents for medical emancipation so she will not be forced to donate a kidney to her older sister, Kate. Anna was born specifically so that her cord blood could be used to heal Kate from leukemia, but each time the cancer relapses she is expected to donate whatever might save Kate. The novel raises questions about love, dependence, and the heavy expectations we attach to family ties. There is Anna's lack of independence in that she cannot make medical decisions about her own body; Kate's dependence on Anna for her continued hope of survival; and contrasting this, their brother, Jesse, who is extremely independent to the point of being considered a juvenile delinquent. You will probably hate the ending (I heard it was changed for the movie, which I never saw), but I still think the book is worth reading.

What books that deal with independence are favorites of yours?

Click here for other 3BoT posts, or check out my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

Finding the Other Extreme

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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Finding the Other Extreme | Faith Permeating Life

It seems like most people like to think of themselves as being in the middle of two extremes, and this means a really large group of people reach for the label "moderate" in their political ideology, perhaps acknowledging what leanings they do have by saying they're a "moderate liberal" or "moderate conservative."

This happens even when someone's views would be considered extreme by others. There are plenty of explanations for why people on the far right or far left would think they're actually rather moderate -- people surround themselves with others who think similarly (the echo chamber, confirmation bias), and people often identify themselves in contrast to the most extreme or simplistic version of an opposing view (strawman fallacy). So it's easy to think of one's own views as "normal" and everyone else on the extremes.

Recognizing this, I've always been unsure how to classify my own ideology -- I know I fall squarely on the liberal/progressive side of most things, but don't think of myself as an "extreme liberal" or "extreme Democrat." Yet it seemed that in conversations on any issue, either I agreed with the speaker/writer or was farther to the left. Moderate means you disagree with people on both sides of you, not just one side, right? Maybe I was more of a flaming liberal than I thought.

Yesterday, I stumbled across the other extreme.

Whoville, like much of the West Coast, tends to be a fairly progressive place to live -- one of the reasons we like living here. It's a strongly "blue" area, and it's a good bet that most people I talk to will share my views, particularly on social issues. (The one exception is religion -- people here tend to be far more skeptical of faith and religion than any place I've lived, but living on a Catholic campus balances this out nicely.)

This means that people generally aren't afraid to bring up political topics, and tend to assume that those around them agree.

I volunteer for a local organization, and yesterday joined a group of volunteers helping with the very boring task of folding and labeling newsletters. As you might imagine, this task doesn't occupy much brainpower and thus opens up the opportunity to spend an hour or so chatting with other volunteers while sending newsletters down the assembly line. On finding out one of the other volunteers was studying to be a social worker, I asked him what his thoughts were on the new DSM.

This quickly turned into a conversation between two volunteers ranting about healthcare. It was the first time I'd heard people say they were disgusted with Obamacare for still allowing the existence of private insurance companies, and they both expressed the belief that a government-run universal healthcare system is simply inevitable and that everyone will see very shortly that it's the only good option. The rest of the conversation, which spanned (among other things) vaccines, zoos, and recent Supreme Court decisions had me repositioning myself on my mental political spectrum closer to the middle than I might have previously thought.

What I realized later, though, was that what made me classify these individuals as more "extreme" than myself had less to do with what they believed and more to do with why they believed it and how they expressed it. Looked at this way, I found there was surprisingly little difference between people I consider "extremely conservative" and these people I thought of as "extremely liberal."

These were the traits I noticed:
  • Speaking in broad, overly simplistic terms about the world.
  • Assuming that any reasonable person would agree with their conclusions.
  • Relying on or citing highly questionable "facts."
  • Dismissing anyone with a different viewpoint as having ulterior motivations.
  • Presuming to speak for other people's wants and needs.
  • Believing that the progression of events along their ideal path is inevitable.
  • Expressing their beliefs in such a way that providing an alternative viewpoint seems entirely pointless.
I'm sure there are probably studies that have been done that have generated similar lists, maybe with even more traits, but these are the things I most noticed. And essentially it boils down to the idea that people I think of as having extreme views are extremely closed-minded.

I'm reflecting on this list for two reasons. One, because it provides a way to check myself on how I'm thinking about and expressing my own views to ensure that I'm not being (or coming across as) closed-minded. And two, because it is a way to recognize when I'm mischaracterizing the "other side" on a particular issue by only focusing on the people who have these traits.

So am I conflating ideological position and closed-mindedness? Perhaps. But it makes sense, in a world as complex as ours, that the only way to hold fast to the most liberal or most conservative position on everything is to refuse to consider alternative viewpoints or conflicting evidence. After all, isn't the reason that most people want to be considered "between the extremes" because they recognize that the most extreme viewpoint is rarely correct?

Are you able to identify positions to both the left and the right of you on most issues? Do you think there's a link between extreme viewpoints and closed-mindedness?
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