You’ll teach whether you want to or not. Even if you simply tell someone who asks a question, “it is not my job to teach you” … you’re teaching them.
As an activist for polyamory and specifically solo polyamory and relationship anarchy, I completely understand that anyone can get fed up of explaining the same thing over and over again, answering the same tired old questions and rebutting and refuting the same stereotypes and prejudices. This happens every time the topic comes up in conversation or when I decide to correct a harmful statement. Sometimes I’m just too stressed or busy and don’t want to have an entire conversation about the topic. I get it. I totally do.
Still, I’ve seen some people take what I would call the wrong approach to this. They nip the whole discussion in the bud with a simple statement, often,
“it is not my job to teach you.”
Woah! That will often come across as arrogant and condescending. That is what you’ll be teaching with that kind of reaction: People of <insert group here> are arrogant and condescending. Is that really what you want to teach others about your group? Especially if it’s the first time they’ve encountered your group, they’ll generalize from their interaction with you to all members of your group. In fact, if you know non-violent communication, you may recognize the kind of violence in this kind of dismissal of someone’s inquiry. You’re actually saying much more than just those words. You’re also saying that they are not worth the time to teach, they are not worth teaching; perhaps they are too stupid to understand. How does that feel? That feeling will get associated with your group.
I will now give an example of one group that is often misunderstood due to interactions with particularly loud and aggressive activists. Until I started diving in to polyamory activism and began meeting intelligent and motivated feminist activists, I had a prejudice against feminists. Unlike previous feminists I had encountered, they took the time to explain their point of view to me, show me evidence and did so in ways that were kind. Prior to that, my view of feminists was that they are all angry, overly sensitive, and excessively politically correct. Why? My experience was that they all got seriously offended really easily about the most trivial of things.
No-one is going to support a cause they don’t understand for people they don’t even like.
One of my earliest examples of this is still etched in to my memory. At school, a female teacher was talking about Blue Peter, a children’s TV show in the UK. She asked us to name one of the female presenters. One joker in the class piped up, “Bonnie,” the name of the dog – to which we all laughed because of course that’s a silly answer – dogs aren’t presenters. She went still for a second, then vented a tirade on us all and shouted that the hidden insult that the presenter is a bitch is unacceptable and put us all in class detention. Seriously? We were all totally confused. You could see it in our eyes as we searched each other’s faces to see if anyone else understood what she was talking about. That kind of link: dog – female presenter – bitch, hadn’t occurred to anyone other than her until she mentioned it. I even feel the need to spell it out here because it’s still not readily apparent.
More recently, I’ve had the displeasure of talking with a self-proclaimed SJWs (Social Justice Warriors – for those who like me had never heard of the term before). When they told me that I had no right to express an opinion on feminism, I was perplexed and asked why.
“It’s not my job to teach you.”
Well… brilliant. I can’t even research this myself. Try typing in “why am I not allowed to express an opinion on feminism?” in to a search engine. You get a bunch of disparate results that don’t actually answer the question. So I’m left with not knowing any more than I did before, not being able to learn and take away that SJWs are arrogant and condescending.
Is that what she wanted to teach? Is that the result she wanted? Probably not. It certainly doesn’t help her cause. No-one is going to support a cause they don’t understand for people they don’t even like.
Until I started diving in to polyamory activism and began meeting intelligent and motivated feminist activists, I had a prejudice against feminists.
There are ways of not getting immersed in hours of explanation without giving that kind of negative impression to others. I’m an extreme example because I’m an activist. I go so far as to carry leaflets around with links to free online glossaries of terms, debunked misconceptions and resources such as blogs, podcasts and books. The very minimum I do is say, “I don’t really have time to explain this all to you now, but here are some resources to help you. Contact me again after you’ve looked at them and I’ll be happy to answer any more questions you might have.”
This method filters out the trolls because they contact me back with inane questions that are already answered in the resources I give them, so at that point I know they’re not really interested and can simply ignore them (this happens very rarely). In other cases, I can get back to them when I have time and energy.
For those who don’t carry pamphlets around with them everywhere they go, but who have strong opinions, I can recommend just having a couple of names or resources ready on the tip of your tongue and a short summary. In the case of my style of polyamory for instance:
- More Than Two – Website with a glossary of terms. Also an excellent book about ethical relationships relevant for everyone.
- Andie Nordgren, Relationship Anarchy. A way of consciously structuring relationships to fit what works for the people involved rather than forcing the relationship to fit some predetermined box.
I’m not even going to link those two above to prove a point. That information alone will be enough for searches to yield good results. In turn, for the people who are really interested in learning, those search results will yield yet more links to other sites and more resources. Hell, even just one word – polyamory – will help a great deal. That’s the one word that snowballed and led me down the path I am currently on.
You’re teaching all the time, whether you want to or not. Help your cause. Don’t turn potential allies in to enemies. Don’t strengthen the prejudices and support of your opponents. Help create a positive, inviting atmosphere to further your cause. Even if you shout, “just search for <keyword/term>,” as the train doors close; that will give the impetus for self-learning and action. It won’t automatically shut them down and leave them with a bitter taste in their mouths.