Came across a post on callout culture in my friends feed, and since I am in a writey state of mind, decided to do a longread on that: specifically - on being made nervous by callouts. So this is going to be a thread.
Full disclosure: I am one of those people who is skittish of the idea of "callout and public apology" - because folks with a former Soviet Background remember our own callout culture - or at least what the older generations tell us. Not adhering to the moral standards of the Party.
What we got to see first-hand is how this particular idea went wrong. Bringing up private morality for public judgement, bringing missteps into the light didn't make society more moral. It turned morality into a game, a rhetoric that had to be played, a kind of lip service where you needed to know the right words, and then it didn't matter how ethical you were. Morality became a vehicle for exercising power. The dragonslayers, with all of their good intentions, became the dragons.
So yes. I totally get all the people who are nervous around callout culture. The fear is simple: "this is supposed to be a system of justice. But what if it's not? What if it's just a cover for someone exercising power? What if they're going to target me - and I don't want to play that game all of my life just to be safe!"
The question is: how do I find out from the bottom of a system of justice that the top has become corrupt? Preferrably before I need to have contact with that system myself?
It's a legitimate question to ask of any system of justice, I think. Who watches the watchers? What steps can we, as participants in a community, take to ensure the people tasked with community safekeeping do not become tyrants themselves?
I do have a personal algorithm I use for that, and I think it might be useful for those who are afraid of being called out. But be aware: this is a long game, and it assumes you are participating in a community for months or years.
Overview of algorithm first, then reasoning. This algorithm assumes no one's life is on the line and there is no immediate threat to your livelyhood.
1. Stop whatever you're doing.
2. Shut up.
3. Apologize - especially if you think that you have done nothing wrong.
4. Withdraw from the situation.
5. Consult trusted advisors on your behavior.
6. Review past actions of person in power.
7. Meanwhile, make sure potentially leaving group won't hurt too much: find replacements for key reasons you are in that group at all.
8. Watch current actions of person in power.
9. Decide your course of action: whether you were right or wrong, whether the person in power made the correct call, whether they are abusing their position or not.
Reasoning: a situation when one is called out can be divided in the following logical branches. The first is whether your behavior is out of line with group standards, and the second is whether behavior is out of line with your own standards.
However, in all four possible branching paths stopping, shutting up and apologizing is beneficial. If you're out of line, then stopping and apologizing goes a long way to mend bridges. If they're out of line, they've just lost their main vector of attack.
So let's go through this case by case.
You're out of line by both your standards and the community's. Great! You don't do further damage and you've begun making amends.
You're not out of line by your standards, but you are by the community's. Great! You've defused the immediate situation and given yourself space to think on whether you want to stay in the community at all or whether it would be more beneficial to leave.
The next ones get tricky, because they're the ones where bad actors can begin to creep in. The community has nothing against you - a particular person does.
Here, the main reasoning is the same as in the second example. Declaw your opponent. Apologize - and take the time to figure out what's going on.
However, the actions afterwards are different. If the entire community thinks you've done wrong, then you're dealing with a choice of stay and compromise/make amends or leave, really.
Not quite so if you're suspecting one bad actor. If you've done nothing wrong by the community's standards, you've also probably been around long enough to have put significant effort into the community. You don't want to lose it because of a bad actor. Perhaps you're afraid that they're taking over or poisoning a community; perhaps you think they're trying to push out you personally. What then?
Then you SHUT UP AND STAY LOW WHILE YOU CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS.
The worst thing you can do at this point is to go on a public crusade. Unless everyone else is absolutely done with this person already, all it does is give them legit reasons to displace you. Public crusades are for when you know what's going on, no earlier.
Back to behavior: there's several branches here again if you've done nothing wrong.
1. The cause is a one time thing, i.e., they've had a bad day and took it out on you. Issue is personal but not consistent.
2. Something you consistently do is not bad per se, but regularly pisses that person off and they have power. Issue is personal and consistent.
3. They think you *are* breaking the community's standards and are primarily acting because they must as custodians. You think they are wrong.
4. Finally, there is the option that the person in power is exercising power because they want to keep you under control. So basically - because they can and because you're a convenient target. Or because they want to cement thir position in the group at your expense. Basically, the perpetrator is a bad actor in the true sense of the word.
People. This is INCREDIBLY rare. The tl;dr reason is that usually people who are capable of this have bigger fish to fry.
It WILL be tempting to think they are trying to destroy your world and strip mine it for resources, if you'll permit me the turn of phrase. DON'T jump to it as your first conclusion unless there's other signs.
I repeat, most of the time this is NOT the case. People are MUCH more likely to be ticked off for unrelated reasons or genuinely believe they are in the right. But in the unlikely case it is, in fact, an emergency, you don't want to fight while out of position.
So, what to do?
1. If all signs point to them just having a bad day... Let it go. We can all use more kindness. When things have calmed down, give them feedback. Maybe in a week or two, not a day. Usually people will be grateful and you'll end up better than before.
This depends on how great their degree of responsibility is, of course. If their bad day nearly cost you a job, it's a whole other story. If they've had what feels like a bad decade - it's actually option number 2.
Option number 2 is tricky. The person may dislike you personally, or it may just be the way they are. In any case, you're not budging and neither are they.
Usually what happens is a "we don't invite those two people together" scenario. The group, if it can survive this way, holds separate events with separate people. But if the situation is such that you MUST continue to work together - behave impeccably. What this does is gain you the respect of everyone else, and loses respect for them.
The women reading this know this tactic. "Hold and hope that someone else brings them down for you and your hands are clean." It's not a pleasant tactic to resort to. It's not a sustainable tactic if you want to live a happy life. But it IS a solution if you need to temporarily work together and you want to come out of it holding your own.
The main thing to watch out for is the actor getting even angrier and doing something stupid. In some cases, this may get violent.
What is important to realise for option #2 is that IT DOESN'T MATTER if the person has it out for you personally or if they're just like that. That is NOT your problem. It's NOT your job to accomodate them. All you need to care about is your own life.
Keep your distance. Do whatever is in your power to minimize their impact on your activities in the community. Minimize interaction. Don't give them a foothold.
Eventually, the situation will tip one way or another. Prepare.
The burning question is: if they're being mean to you just because, can't you just kick them out? It's not fair to endure that!
Maybe, maybe not. Depends. But if we're talking about callouts, i.e. in this context someone watching and exaggerating your every word and doing it because they don't like you - then a quiet voice saying "I will have nothing to do with that person any more" is often more powerful than trying to out-shout them. But this, again, is a long game. It must be worthwhile.
Option number 3 is morally easy. You think they're wrong, they think they're right, they have nothing against you personally. Time to check in with the group and with outside trusted advisors and double-check both opinions. If you still think they're wrong after that, then make a judgment call on how much of a big deal the issue really is. If it's a small momentary lapse - disregard unless situation crops up again with you or others. Then bring out your arguments and be more prepared.
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