Deconstructing ‘Kindness’

TW: discussion of ableism, advocacy, harassment

 

I’m pretty sure that most people who would find me here are the kind of people who understand that a lot of people try to get out of accepting their somethingsomething*ism by saying they’re ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ or ‘accepting’ or, even, ‘my best friend is’ or ‘I grew up with and..’.

 

I’m also pretty sure that a lot of people I deal with out there are the kind of people who see me as an unusually attractive female teenager in need of damsel-in-distress-type assistance (which you all know I’m not any of). Accordingly, when I do this thing called ‘advocating for myself’, for example, in demanding my contractual rights or in pointing out that something that happened to me was not okay and needs to be looked at, they get stunned and react defensively, using the ‘but we’re not like that’ excuses.

 

 

The most recent example I have already talked about, when I pointed out that not only had the previous missed appointment not been rescheduled, and that my concern for my safety in their environment had not been addressed, I was told that they were ‘shocked and offended’ that I would accuse them of anything and they’re ‘devastated’ to have been accused. ‘I personally have always treated you with kindness and respect,’ was in there too.

Aside from the fact where my history in industrial law has me nonplussed at the lack of professionality or fair investigation into the incidents, and put me in a position where their business practice isn’t one I could ethically support, the entire concept that someone they hired couldn’t have done anything because their boss thought he was kind? It’s the same reasoning, just hidden away behind a layer of taking business rather personally. It’s worth noting that the paragraphs of emotionally charged rhetoric did not include any actual denial.

It’s also worth noting that when I pointed out that the person writing those paragraphs was also included in a recommendation to not comment on people’s appearance that all attempts at defensiveness were dropped.

 

I’m sure, at some point, they’re telling themselves that I was just trouble, and that paying me to go away (in breach of their terms and conditions) was protecting their business. (It didn’t come with an NDA, by the way, because in no way did they pay attention to any legal advice they may have received on the matter). They flat out told me it was a misunderstanding on my part, because their staff would never do that. They’re all personally vetted, you see – which, you know, is generally what an interview process and a reference check is. They consider their staff family. That means they defend them like family, blind to the real implications of what they do.

 

And in all this, is a very disturbing implication that they do actually consider what they were doing to me okay, and that I shouldn’t have stood up to it because they were being kind even letting me go there in the first place, you know, what with being disabled and all. When I reported each incident, minutes after it happened, I received variations of ‘they’re just like that/nobody likes them but we put up with it’. And even then, it wasn’t just isolated incidents that were that easy to report – some were the kind that built up over time, like repeatedly ignoring me saying a thing made me uncomfortable, not letting me sit down the day after surgery because ‘I need to sit down and be quiet’ apparently means twenty questions about ‘do you need me to turn the music off do you need a glass of water’ when literally I needed to not be standing and not be forced into a conversation.

 

The thing is, it wasn’t okay, and their reaction – asserting kindness, asserting devastation – shows that they aren’t willing to learn from it. They weren’t willing to negotiate a compromise. They weren’t even willing to let me finish out my contract with them to provide services as already paid for. They didn’t even pay me all that they therefore owed me, as I was owed three sessions and received money for two.

 

It also isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it stay at this level, an insidious thing filled with minor incidents that everyone dismisses because lots of minor things aren’t seen to add up to being oppressive. I’ve seen it escalate, ignored until the problem became to big to be ignored but also too big to be solved. I’ve been hurt by it before and I know when, for me, the time to get out of it is.

 

I don’t hold out much hope that this being the thing I was willing to walk out over will change them at all. The fact that not only were these incidents not reported to management after I reported them to staff, they were then not properly investigated and that I was not treated with respect, shows me that they’re not willing to see that they’re not kind and generous. In my experience in this particular industry, the ‘accepting disabilities’ is a thing on paper. I tried to get into another program, was told ‘we accept people with disabilities’ and half of the assessments were conversation based, with no alternatives. They wanted to say it because it makes them look accepting, gets them funding, but no effort was made to practice it. They share staff.

I can hope, of course, because I know that other people are being hurt by them. But with people whose only defense is that they’re kind, or their best friend is somethingsomething*, or they grew up not knowing the difference, or that they try really hard, the first step isn’t something anyone else can do for them. Even the biggest kick in the pants is nothing if they land on their butt – they have to first realise that it doesn’t matter what they think of themselves, what they do has hurt someone else.

 

Unfortunately, many people aren’t mature enough to see that, let alone apply it to themselves. They apparently are not, and it has lost them business. It has lost the associated businesses business. I don’t know if they will even see that as a consequence of their actions.

 

However, I am done with the ‘but we’re being so kind and tolerant and you’re the one who’s emotionally overreacting’, and I won’t take it from them. That’s the flipside of the ‘kind’ and the ‘but I’m not like that’ and the ‘but I’m really nice’ defenses – they put the emotional burden, the fault, back on the person they hurt. I do know that my teacher didn’t have the greatest grasp of privacy, so most of the people there know the kind of situation I was coming out of, and they’re probably justifying their kindness as some kind of trauma-fuelled fault of mine. That’s how workers comp dragged my claim out so long, after all, so I know all the ingredients are there. “She was unstable anyway because x, she was so hard to deal with,” was a recurring theme from oldwork. Never mind that portraying victims as unstable, telling them over and over that they need care and guidance, making them doubt their own stability and mind, is an abusive tactic. Never mind the numerous psychiatrists pointing out how well-adjusted I was until I got there – and they did, and they could. (Side point: my psychiatrist at the moment only just now believes me that I was fine before I got there because he only just looked at records from the one before him. Really.) ‘But I was kind!’ is basically a gateway to gaslighting – it’s all in your head, because I’m not doing anything.

 

If someone says ‘I have never been anything but nice and I don’t deserve this’ then chances are that, yes, they do. But they won’t take kindly to being told that, and that’s not a step that anyone can take for them. Nor, unfortunately, is it something that can just be trained out of society over generations.

 

But fetishising a mute person’s voice and constantly harassing them about when they’ll make sound? Isn’t kind.

Constantly telling someone how attractive they are and how you have an erection under your desk and then telling them not to tell your wife, or anyone, about it? IS NOT KIND. THAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT. REPEATEDLY. (Compounded by the same comments without the erection from other people there, every week, of course, because ‘I don’t like people commenting on my appearance’ isn’t obvious enough.)

Telling someone you’d like to get them drunk so that you can touch them? Is not kind. It is, actually, a threat. And then telling that person off for not reporting their movements outside the ten minutes a week that you conduct business with them, because you want to know them better? Is not okay.

 

They can be devastated all they like. It’s not about them. The definition of harassment is ‘an act which is perceived as hurtful by the person receiving it’. It is unwanted. It is hurtful. It is often repetitive and reinforced by that very repetition. It is not about what is done. It is about the effect it has.

It doesn’t matter if you think it’s kind. It isn’t. What matters is if you’re told to stop, that you stop. People who don’t stop, and instead try to justify themselves, just hurt people more. (Including, well, themselves.)

 

 

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