Note to Self: I Must Do More

Some years ago I read a post by a woman that went something like this:

I did an experiment: as a woman, I watched to see how men acted when I was walking and they were on a course that would collide with me. I decided to see if they would just keep walking and run into me. And they did. Every. Single. Time.*

My first, shameful thought was the typical kneejerk reaction. “That's not true!” (I feel like there's a hashtag for this reaction, something about a condition applying to less than the totality of males?) But after a split second of reflection I had to admit that yeah, this woman's reaction was almost certainly true and honestly reported. Which led to:

Uncomfortable Question #1: Do I act like that? Do I expect others to make way for me by default?

I'm a big guy. I'm 6'4”. I like to walk fast. Sometimes when I'm walking fast I have a hard time turning. I had no memory of making other people adjust their walking to let me though, but that's kinda the point, isn't it?

I imagined how the conversation might go if I said that to the woman who made that post. “Hey sometimes I might run you down because I'm big and turning can be hard.” I didn't like any of the very reasonable responses to this pathetic excuse. So I made a decision:

Nate's Stupidly Obvious Decision: I will make way and change my course if I'm going to bump into a woman.

And then after a few minutes I simplified it:

Nate's Stupidly Obvious Decision, Simplified: I will change my course if I'm going to bump into a person.

And then, after a few days of congratulating myself for doing this I realized I could simplify it still more, and laughed at myself.

Nate's Stupidly Obvious Decision, Stripped Down: I will watch where I'm going.

And in that moment I realized something. I had been congratulating myself for doing the bare minimum required to be a somewhat decent member of society. Which means in the lived experience of the woman who wrote that post, many men are not doing the bare minimum required to be a somewhat decent member of society, up to and possibly including me.

Nate's Stupidly Obvious Decision, Revealed for How Stupid it Is: When walking, I will do the bare minimum to be a decent member of polite society.

This train of thought led to:

Uncomfortable Question #2: In what ways am I doing less than the bare minimum to be a decent member of polite society, simply because people let me get away with it?

And now we'll gloss over about 10 years of me asking that question, looking for ways in which I'm metaphorically bumping into other people while walking. 10 years of realizing more ways in which, without thinking, I'm letting all the defaults of 21st century American society silently work in my favor. Every time I think I've eliminated or at least controlled for biases in my thinking or perception I find another way in which the entire game of life is easier for me than people who aren't white middle-class middle-aged cis-gendered males. I keep making more little guidelines for myself, along the blindingly obvious lines of “don't run over people over while walking”. But there's always another way in which I'm bowling people over without noticing.

Finally I came up with a four word distillation of all of those rules, which isn't a “rule” in itself but hopefully is closer to a truth:

I Must Do More.

I can't just vote to represent my needs, my needs are likely to be met by any political outcome. I need to ensure that I'm helping people around me be aware of the ways in which others are being discouraged or outright prohibited from voting. I need to vote to represent the needs of those who are disenfranchised.

I can't just work to get ahead in my career, I need to ensure that I use any measure of “power” or “influence” I attain to in my career to assist those who don't have my privilege. There might come a time where the right thing to do will be to bow out of consideration for a position in favor of someone who isn't playing the game of life on easy mode. Statistically and realistically if I pass on an opportunity I'm likely to get another. That's not the case for everyone.

I Must Know More

Lastly, It's on me to seek out ways in which I must do more. If I hurt or trample someone and claim that I only did it because I didn't know I was hurting or trampling them, that doesn't make their lives better. People who are already living life on a higher difficulty level shouldn't be expected to teach me how they are being discriminated against. As much as I like to pretend that everyone can see I'm a good and reasonable person that's just not true. Traditionally telling a person of privilege that they are treating you poorly has gone poorly. So I can't expect people to tell me when I'm stepping on them. It's my job to learn that myself. I can only do more if I know more. I need to learn.

⤴️I cannot find the original. I like to give attribution but it's been a long time and I can't remember if I saw this on Tumblr or Twitter or Facebook or... If you happen to know the post I'm referencing I'd love to be able to cite it!

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