I talk a lot about developing tolerance. (As a good thing.) Hand-in-hand with developing tolerance is another word: acceptance. I began to write a post about the mental health benefits of acceptance right after my last post. However, I experienced a wee bit of a crisis while writing it, so I changed my vanilla post about acceptance. Many times. At this point I need to just finish it, as I’m way overdue for a blog post.
Originally, I started with joking about how acceptance is an easy word to use when you’re about to eat a donut or receive a birthday gift. It’s not so easy with cancer, or the death of a loved one.
Patting myself on the back for a decent opening to the post, I settled in to explain the finer details of this acceptance thing. I actually thought I’d finish it mid-week, and post in record time.
I don’t know if it’s returning to Kettle and Stony Point where I am lucky enough to do some counselling, or reading about protesters facing tear-gas and “non-lethal ammunition” (a not-completely-accurate name for bullets which, yes, don’t kill everyone; but still manage to kill people at a higher rate than COVID). In any case, I read what I wrote and couldn’t help feeling like a condescending, entitled, middle-class white guy.
I mentioned this in passing to someone I’m working with. He looked at me calmly and said, “You should write that.”
So I took his advice. Scrapping the original post, I started re-writing. My second draft then got scrapped, and I started over. Now I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve crumpled up the page (so to speak) and started again.
Still Think Acceptance Is Helpful, But…
This is still a post about acceptance. Except that instead of me preaching about how all of you can benefit by accepting stuff, it has turned into me doing the acceptance. I am a middle-class white guy. I am most definitely privileged. Groan… I’m more than capable of entitlement. (Ouch! That’s a big insult these days.) And my wife will no doubt smile and nod at the idea of me accepting that I can be condescending.
Awwwwww! Do I have to?
I don’t want to accept these things! They’re not even a little bit flattering. As my kids might say (or used to say, I can’t keep up with the sayings du jour), they’re “cringey”.
But from what I can see, we’re drowning in blame and shame. I think I need to do my part, by cringing and accepting. Unhappily, I’ll stand up and say, “I’m that guy.” Not denying it or deflecting it or minimizing it. Definitely not blaming anyone for it.
As I crumpled digital drafts of this post, I thought about various things. Like this: advice-oriented blog posts by people like me are by nature condescending.
A Couple of Definitions
You might be thinking, “What are you doing!? Are you trying to commit career suicide?” Hmmmm. Maybe that’s not you at all… that might be an inner voice of my own hissing at me.
Still, I think this is the right thing to do, so onward and forward. I have not taken the time to do a systematic review of mental health blog posts, and the rather enormous self-help and psychological advice industry in general. So I cannot prove what I’m about to say.
However… I’m not too worried about being wrong.
Counselling and psychotherapy ideas are dominated by middle-class white people; predominantly men. They all are based on assumptions like, “I know important stuff,” and “I can help you.” (That last one usually implies, “If you listen to me and follow my advice.”)
Lots of really nice counsellors and psychologists out there would no doubt find the words “patronizing” and “superiority” in the above definition offensive, and consider them undeserved. All I can say is, my intent is not to slap anyone in the face. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
OK. Looks like patronizing is just condescending on steroids. “In your face” condescension, perhaps.
What about condescension which is not “in your face”? Nice and gentle condescension? Friendly, with a warm smile?
That’s me. (Hey. Notice how I’m practicing this acceptance thing, right here. Live and uncensored.)
In For A Penny, In For A Pound
Here’s another thought. I suspect that a good deal of self-help ideas — patronizing or not — are most helpful to privileged people, living safe and comfortable lives. I wonder if some of the ideas may only be helpful to those enjoying lives of privilege.
Yes, that’s a subjective term. And I did say I think there’s far too much blame hurled about. So I’ll stick with myself. I live a life of privilege. I never worry about whether I’ll have food to eat this evening; or for that matter next week or next month or next year. When I walk in my neighbourhood, I don’t look over my shoulder, expecting an attack. I can walk into virtually any store or restaurant and be greeted by a smile (or at least polite indifference, which is just fine in a shopping context). I have never been pulled over by the police. (OK, there were a couple of occasions when I was driving a little bit above the posted limit. I deserved those.) “Get a job!” has never been yelled at me.
So What Am I Saying?
Wrapping this thing up has frustrated me for weeks now. I changed my vanilla post because I felt it was the right thing to do. I’m still not sure what this means for future blog posts.
Maybe I need to accept that I don’t have a quick, snappy, impress-the-heck-out-of-you way to end this. (Ooooh! Aaaah!)
My dilemma is this: while I see the condescension in conveying it; I still honestly believe that acceptance can be helpful. Not easy, mind you. I gotta say I’m not enjoying the little acceptance exercise this post turned into.
And I think it’s fair to say, I have no right to tell anyone “you need to accept ___________.” (Fill in whatever painful thing someone might face.)
I’m going to leave it there, or it might be another week before I post anything. It’s a fitting enough ending.