I’m not saying that people don’t have emotional responses to words. I’m saying that setting out to police words to keep emotional responses from happening is probably a fool’s errand. That’s not just how the brain works. Emotional reactions are far more closely connected to nonverbal cues.
Take the two stories I told about triggers in the Being Me posts.
The first one didn’t happen because of the words used. It started because the tone of voice used offered a cue that this was being said specifically to be overheard by others. Even that was okay until someone else laughed. The short, sharp laugh set off a cascade of memories and emotions that basically said, “Oh, my, god, I can’t believe this is happening again.”
The second one was actually even more interesting on some level. The thing that got me was the way he leaned in real close and called me an asshole in a quiet voice that no one else could overhear. It was a low-level threat delivered in a way that felt isolating. I mean, you could yell, “Hey, you’re a total asshole!” at me from across the room and I’d probably say, “I know, right?” So there was absolutely nothing in the message he delivered that bugged me. The way it was delivered, though, left me feeling alone and vulnerable.
So…yeah. That’s relentlessly anecdotal, but I think it’s worth pointing out.
Also, it occurred to me after I wrote the first post that I don’t really see trigger warnings or overly serious discussions of triggering and trigger warnings anymore. I think part of it might be that I don’t frequent the same places anymore. I also think it’s possible that we’ve kind of stopped talking about it obsessively. That latter option would be nice.
There’s another thing that annoys me that I still see on a regular basis. One of the phrases that gets tossed around on the internet a lot is, “intent is not magic.” For those who haven’t run into that, it’s basically a pithy way of saying, “You said something wrong and hurtful and it doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to and/or you didn’t even know that it was wrong and hurtful. So fuck you, troll.”
It’s somewhat more complicated than that, actually. Mostly it comes up in a situation where Person A says something hurtful to Person B and Person B says, “Hey, that hurt.” Any response from Person A that doesn’t start with, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll never say that again,” tends to start with, “I didn’t intend to cause any harm in saying that.” This, then, results in, “Intent is not magic, asshole!”
The primary issue I have with anything that starts with “intent is not magic” is that it often starts with a presumption of bad faith. Please allow me to offer a real life example:
I used to spend a rather large amount of time with a sign language interpreter. I was talking to her once about something or other involving people who totally didn’t get something or other and I said to her, “People like that are culturally deaf.”
She got visibly pissed at me and said, “What did you just say?” I repeated my statement. She then asked me where I got off making fun of deaf people and saying they didn’t have or couldn’t connect to culture (I don’t remember what the specific response was).
I was utterly baffled. To me the word “deaf” had multiple definitions and connotations. In calling the people we were both in agreement about “culturally deaf” I was simply saying that they lacked the ability to understand and absorb whatever it was that culture referred to in that context. It was, in short, a metaphor. It also had absolutely nothing to do with any actual deaf people and it certainly wasn’t an attempt to mock their ability to interact with or contribute to the larger culture.
I, being an idiot, attempted to explain all of these nuances. That just pissed her off more. It finally ended with her telling me to never use that term again and me agreeing because it just wasn’t worth it to have that argument anymore. In short, she informed me that intent wasn’t magic and that she wasn’t going to listen to what my intent was, nor was she going to entertain any interpretation of my statements outside of her own.
This is bad enough when dealing with someone you know and who, theoretically, knows you enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. On the internet nobody gives the benefit of the doubt. Anything that seems even remotely like the worst possible thing that could have been said receives that interpretation. Any follow up response that’s anything other than, “You’re right, I’m worse than Hitler and Caligula combined,” is then taken as an indication that the person making the original statement is, in fact, worse than Hitler and Caligula combined.
It’s even worse when the second person completely and totally misinterprets the original statement. It seems like one of the rules of the internet is, “Never admit you’re wrong. Double down.” Since this rule applies to both sides of the argument…well…you can see where it’s going.
And now I feel like I’m repeating myself. I’m also really tired of this line of thought, so I think I’ll spare myself and anybody else any further ramblings. Should you want any more thoughts on the subject, though, I'd recommend this bit that vorjack put up over at Unreasonable Faith yesterday.