Compassion: The Key to Raising Awareness
For many people, victim blaming is not a conscious decision, and often they are unaware of language choices. Attempts to challenge these comments, though necessary, often result in defensive responses that create additional barriers rather than receptiveness to our work.
Why do people react so negatively to challenge? Often it’s because the person speaking doesn’t identify their language as victim blaming. If asked contextually, they would tell you that violence is never the victim’s fault, that we need to support in any way possible, and that we need to do whatever it takes to end male violence against women. The problem is not, in these cases, conscious awareness of gender inequality, but the subconscious linguistic reactions.
You see, language choice is a complex psychological process which involves factors that include awareness of audience, surroundings, subject and draws upon source materials presented around us. We don’t, as a rule, even realise the huge wealth of information we use in those few seconds it takes to form and utter comments. But it’s all there. From childhood experiences, parental comments, media coverage to how our friends and peers respond to the topic, we absorb all of it and adapt our response without making a conscious effort.
This is our frame of reference. It is a huge maze of data that forms our opinion. Though we know that victim blaming is awful and needs to be challenged, many people form their language choices based on a web of material that does nothing but blame the victim. Challenging the speaker is challenging the frame of reference, which can often seem quite personal, particularly if they had never seen themselves to be an apologist before.
It is vital that victim blaming language is challenged, particularly the everyday kind. But we are trying to change minds, not destroy people. We want to make people think and engage them, not turn them away.
Is there a right way to raise awareness with this in mind? As a personal response, I would say not. Twitter is a different platform to blogging, and tacking corporate victim blaming or media language is difference to changing people in the workplace. We are all individuals, and our responses to challenge are as different to each other as any other feature. But a commonality in human nature is a desire to be valued. Perhaps, then, challenge and awareness needs to be conducted in a spirit of dialogue. Rather than telling someone that their language is wrong, ask why they chose that language, explain how you saw it, discuss and build bridges.
If we model the compassion and thoughtful response that we desire from others, we stand a better chance of getting it in return. We can be activists and game-changers without shutting people down, though this doesn’t end the adversity we face. If we want to leave the world better than we found it, we need to abandon the attitude of destruction and adopt one of growth, creation and change.
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