Activism has afforded me an invaluable education. The lessons regarding human rights issues are as endless as the solutions. Self-reflection is critical for personal growth and is something we should all practice as frequently as possible. A significant part of that reflection involves pondering not just our behaviours and comments, also the behaviours and comments of others. 

Why did they do that? Or say that? What led them to think this way? What external factors could exist for them that we’re not seeing? Critical thinking is an invaluable skill that you should invest the time in mastering. There’s always room for improvement.

When to walk away

Engaging in the spread of knowledge is my own choice, but it can be draining. For this reason, I’ve found self care and protecting my mental health to be incredibly important. 

Something I struggled with for a long time was being able to walk away from someone who was determined to be closed minded. However, I have learned from classic signs of a lost cause. One is that they have the attitude of ‘two wrongs make a right’. 

“Someone disrespects me, so I in turn, am entitled to disrespect someone else.” This is the hallmark approach of small minded people. They are not interested in learning, they’re focused with keeping tally on some grotesque scoreboard. 

People like this need to go through an experience in their life that turns on that light bulb for them and makes them want to open their mind, learn more and shift their perspective. 

You can’t do that work for them, it’s also not your job to. Everyone’s responsible for taking control of their own education. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t be the one to plant to seed. 

How to break through

If you still want to try to get through to someone like this, I’d start asking questions. 

This changes the dynamic of the discussion. Questions force them to think and reflect on what they’re saying. For example, as soon as they claim Two Spirits is fake, I could ask them what makes them say that.

This immediately puts the burden of proof on them and if they’re making up nonsense, it either shuts it down quite quickly, or forces them to start thinking about what they just said. 

This presents a chance that they might turn that light bulb on, all on their own – but in your timeframe. Also, I find asking for sources, from the approach that you’d like to learn more, helps sometimes.

This is where they have to admit they’re simply presenting their opinion as fact, or provide a source for you to determine the credibility of. Either way, you’re holding them accountable to their words and this forces them to think as well. 

A red flag

Someone asked me how I would respond to them claiming Two Spirits is ‘fake’ because “there are only two genders”. The indisputable truth is; they’re wrong. When they say “there’s only two genders” I already know they aren’t going to really hear anything I say in response. 

If they’re closed-minded enough, and ignorant enough, to not know gender is a spectrum, then they’re a lost cause until they educate themselves quite a bit more. 

This same individual also stated that disrespecting Indigenous spirituality is of no significance because people disrespect their Christianity “all the time”. If they at least acknowledged that Two Spirits is valid and their issue truly was that their, “religion is disrespected so who cares about anyone else’s,” then I’d put in some effort. 

This at least indicates they understand science and their true grievance is with the perceived personal affront to their religion. This is a conversation that can potentially be had respectfully, and through the lens of education, to uncover what racism and discrimination really are, and what those behaviours can look like.

However what we’re dealing with is someone who will never hear what I’m saying. The reason I’m confident in that, is because their ignorance is as widespread as their laziness. If they don’t believe gender is a spectrum, it’s nothing more than that, a belief. They still have a responsibility to educate themselves on reality, and in doing so, they would learn about the science that disproves their belief.

Education is a personal responsibility

It was a tough lesson to learn that we are not responsible for other people’s education. Time and time again I took it as a personal failure when people refused to open their mind or consider new information. The fact is, everyone is responsible for their own education. And they’ll either grow or they won’t.

There are many examples of cognitive dissonance within people’s beliefs. Just because someone is part of a community, it does not mean they have a deep and complete understanding of the full scope of the issue. 

I’ve met many feminists who actively advocate for equality and yet they have racist views, or homophobic views etc. Everyone has areas to learn and grow and often times these ‘blind spots’ exist because they go unchecked. 

This is why self-reflection is so important. No one is perfect.

Strengthening your own intersectionality

Hear me out on this next part because the knee-jerk response is to become emotional, but that doesn’t help anyone work through or discuss these issues logically. I’m a feminist but as I said time and time again, I’m still homophobic, transphobic, ableist, sexist etc. This is because we’re all raised with biases both at home, in public and in the media.

It’s impossible to escape it. The key to growing is identifying it and correcting it when it happens. For example, I have a terrible habit of forgetting to specify ‘cis’ on posts because to me, trans people are the sex they know they are.

I don’t remember to take into consideration that for them, it was a process to become who they truly are. Arguably, while it’s a well-meaning mistake, this is also transphobic and exclusive. My behaviour on this issue is problematic as I’m sure you can imagine. So, I make sure to call it out and self correct so I can avoid doing it in future. If you cannot admit your failings, you cannot grow as a person. 

The Next Step

Claiming to be free of any racism, homophobia, transphobia etc is simply impossible for anyone because we all have bias. While you may not be all of these things, everyone has a blindspot, or a bias in at least one area. 

By no means am I saying true feminists have all the answers. But feminism should be about looking to continually learn and grow and willingly admitting we don’t have all the answers and are a work in process. 

I’d love to know…

What do you do to protect your mental health?

How do you challenge yourself to grow?

When did you realize you were no longer responsible for other people’s education?