Solving emotions rather than solving problems.

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Michelle Dawson replied elsewhere to my post about other people’s perception of my writing as “angry” in nature. She said that she’d written to the Canadian Association for Community Living about Tiffany Pinckney, an autistic woman who died from neglect. Their response was to ask her if they could do something to make her “feel” better, implying that her emotions, not the woman’s death or any related injustice, were the problem.

I have been encountering similar things from service providers recently. In a meeting about my grievances with an organization (which included actions that jeopardized my health and safety), I was asked what would make me “feel” better. I replied that if I wanted my feelings taken care of, I would stay at home and pet my dog. It is strange, when talking about situations where life or health are at stake, to be treated as if the main problem is one’s “feelings” about the matter. (On a related note, where a problem jeopardizes not one but several people, it seems strange that I should be expected to care only about myself and my safety — or myself and my “feelings of safety” or somesuch.)

On another note, it seemed important for the person to let me know that my concerns were “heard”. I’m not sure what that means. What I care about is whether people do the right thing or not. Not whether they “hear” me when I talk about people doing the wrong thing.

When there is (as there was recently) an undue level of pollution from construction in my building, to the point where I’ve had to go to the emergency room for inhalation injury and asthma, I don’t want people to “hear my feelings of endangerment”. I don’t want them to come up with a “solution” to mollify me and nobody else, or give false solutions and claim it’s my fault if they don’t work. I want the building to be made safe for all its inhabitants. But those first several things were what was done, until I and another asthmatic had to take matters into our own hands and live on the streets until we were offered alternate lodging (and then only with a very specific kind of doctor’s note) and the construction techniques suddenly improved for the first time since the project started (but of course we were demonized in the press).

It seems that many people expect everyone to just have problems of “feelings” that can be resolved by moving “feelings” around, and also to only care about themselves. The idea that problems exist beyond emotion, that emotion is in fact not the only (or even main) component of trying to talk about or change such problems, and that the problem is not in the emotions of those who complain about it… that seems lost on a lot of people. Easier, I suppose, to reduce everything down to nice individual emotional problems with nice individual emotional solutions. Especially easier for people with power.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

8 responses »

  1. Yes, the “feeling” language is belittling, and is a way of avoiding granting you full status as a person.

    I also dislike the “being heard” phrase, although I admit I am guilty of having used it myself in the past. IMO, it is also a type of avoidance, in the sense of *seeming* to provide a response without really providing one at all.

  2. After further thought, I should add that the phrase “I hear you” is sometimes functional, in that it can be synonymous with “I am now processing what you said, but I don’t have a substantive response yet”. But just the fact that it is ambiguous makes it problematic, because it is unclear.

  3. Some people use “I hear you” in a manner of “I don’t want you to feel ignored but I’m not actually listening.” And others use it as “I agree with you.” And others use it as “I’m listening, and I may or may not agree, but I haven’t decided yet.”
    I hate when someone provides a response, usually involving “hearing me”, which slips out of responsibility for something. I got such a letter from Lenny Schafer when I asked him to define autism and Asperger Syndrome. He responded that he wasn’t qualified to, that he just followed the DSM. I responded that he had said certain people were or weren’t autistic in ways that didn’t follow the DSM. I wish I’d thought to save my response. I still haven’t got a response from him about that.

  4. I thought “I hear you” or “I’m hearing you saying…” was psychology lingo designed to convey validation to the other person. Validation means either that you believe the other’s point is valid (even if you disagree)or their right to make the point is valid, even if the point is not (meaning you disagree). It’s a way of not alienating you after you have spoken your mind about something, but it automatically sets up a hierarchy between the person with the complaint and the person listening to the complaint, because the person listening gets to (assumes the power to) validate the person complaining even if that validation was not asked for.

    When I read “I hear you” I immediately see Dr. Phil standing before a panel of people with conflicting problems. So “I hear you” is also a signal that there is going to be some kind of diplomacy and compromise that is going to take place so that everyone wins. It is not usually a signal that someone is definitely wrong and someone else is definitely being victimized or wronged.

    So in the case cited here, the “hearing” lingo seems totally inappropriate.

  5. When used by official figures, such responses are designed to evade admission of a wrongdoing/existence of a problem, and to imply that the only problem is in the complainant’s head/perception.

    In such situations, “I hear you” is not a true validation, but merely a classic example of a “non-committal statement”.

  6. Pingback: Ballastexistenz » Blog Archive » I’m the monster you met on the Internet.

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