Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Talk To Me - 10 - What Do You Mean By Awareness?

It's something I talk about a lot, but I'm sure it's not understood by a lot of people.

I've just been discussing on Facebook the phenomenon of clothing for young children with animal ears etc, as part of the garment. It has been a very common sight in the last few years, so much so that the friend I was discussing it with said she had bought the least offensive ones she could find, because that's all there was available.

I hate them. Yes, even the hats. Yes, I know they are popular. If your child loves hats with ears on, power to him, but if he's not old enough to decide that, and/or it was bought so you could laugh, please consider me giving you "the look".

The last time I mentioned this I was told that it was "just a bit of fun", and I am fully aware that no harm is intended. That's my whole point.

Having a bit of fun at somebody else's expense is not a very nice thing. Putting bunny ears on your baby does no harm, but the mindset behind it is dark and ugly. Would you do it to a mentally disabled adult? No? What's the difference?

And now you're squirming, reading this, because although you don't agree with me, I'm poking in places where people aren't supposed to poke. The very grey areas around ethics where THERE IS NO CONSENSUS, and it's all a matter of opinion.

You don't have to agree, what you have to do is think about it. And that is what nobody wants to do.

I have lost count of the times I have been told to get over it, or to stop being a spoilsport, or that I'm being "anal", or that I'm no fun when I inconveniently suggest there may be an ethical angle to decisions being made.

I have been told that I'm too serious, or too analytical, or that life is too short to worry about details.

And every single time I'm told this, it's because I'm poking in that grey area, the one that will always cause controversy, always.

In fact, as soon as I hear "oh get over it", I know I touched a nerve.  I know I made it so that a person would have to examine their motives, or go beyond having a bit of fun. I know that when I don't smile at the racist joke, and cause discomfort, and get told I have no sense of humour, it's because I burst the bubble, I stepped on the freedom to speak without care.

I am a shit disturber. This is my own personal agony area of deciding when to speak and when not to. It is when manners come smack up against ethics.

Is my aim to make others change their minds?

Sometimes. I don't live under any delusion that I'm always right, or that even if I am, that I have any ability to sway the opinion of others. But certainly, in an example like not smiling at the racist joke, I hold out hope that my disapproval might sink in.

What my real aim is, is not to be swept along with the tide, not to be one of the non-thinkers.

Awareness is the first step in ethical behaviour. It is also a step in being purposeful when being combative. Even if you intend to speak out, to criticize, to take a stand and do so with sharp wit or sarcasm, first you have to decide where your limits are, where you won't go.

I do have a sense of humour, actually. I'm well-known for being "funny". Many funny people, over the years have made their points well through their comedy, and I am a great fan of those who do. But some of them have got it wrong sometimes, they've gone too far.

Denis Leary is famously quoted for saying:

"There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-ass kids can't compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks... to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons. I don't care what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you — your kid is not autistic. He's just stupid. Or lazy. Or both."

He was forced to apologize for offence caused, and to say that it was quoted out of context. He said that "....he had been talking about the trend of unwarranted overdiagnosis of autism, which he attributed to American parents seeking an excuse for behavioural problems and underperformance."

He made a grave error of judgement of saying what he did, no matter what he meant.

When we have something controversial to say, we have to say it so that it will be heard. So that any opposition only comes from those who oppose what we really have to say.

Choosing your words carefully is part of awareness - awareness of potential reaction. Once the ambiguous words are out, the fallout from them will obscure your intent. Once you have a reputation for shooting your mouth off, your potential for being listened to, or at least taken seriously, is lost. A version of crying wolf applies.

This is the finest of distinctions between when to speak and when not to. And awareness is your guide. Awareness of implications, awareness of reactions, and awareness of lack of awareness.

You must have control over what you say. The English have a saying "Engage brain before opening gob". Engaging your brain is awareness. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Language is the most powerful thing we have, and we take it for granted. Both the spoken and written language is treated with considerable disdain, lazy speech and lazy writing lead to problems over and over again.

That's my final comment (for now) on communication, but I plan to write more about Awareness as a whole.


  1. Mindfulness and ethics--those two words together almost beg to be followed by "you don't say!" If we are mindful and conscious about the words we use, then it follows that we would be just as mindful of being silent when the occasion calls for it.

    I think all of us have used words unmindfully, tactlessly, and at the wrong time. Thank goodness we are given new opportunities to choose wisely--provided we learn from our experience, of course. ;) ~ Blessings!

  2. Brilliant blog Melanie which has given me plenty to think about. I am guilty of buying hats with various kinds of ears for my grandchildren. I have our chw

    ased them without much thought except that they are cute. Yes, we have laughed.

  3. Sorry no idea what happened above. Purchased was the word I wanted. Anyway, you have made me think and I shall be discussing this with other members of my family.