Daily Archives: September 24, 2006

What people can get away with with I-statements.

Standard

A conversation I had quite some time ago that came to mind when thinking of the “I-statements” thing. Where _____ is a highly offensive word for someone with a severe cognitive or sometimes severe physical impairment.

Person: I’d rather die than be a ______.

Me: I don’t believe the word _____ really applies to anyone.

Person: I didn’t say it did.

Me: But… doesn’t “I’d rather die than be a _____” kind of imply that the category of “_____” actually exists?

Person: No, I’m just saying for me, I wouldn’t want to be a _____.

Me: So you think you could become a _____?

Person: Yes.

Me: ….which means that some people are _____s, right, if you’re so worried about being a _____?

Person: No! How could you think I’d say that about someone else?

Me: Because if you’re worried about becoming a _____, then it means someone else has to have been a _____ or you wouldn’t worry about it.

Person: FOR ME. I’m just saying. For ME. (Taps chest several times for emphasis.)

Me: Yeah, but you’re saying there’s a category of people _____, and that’s what I’m disagreeing with you about.

Person: FOR ME!

I ended up giving up. The person ended up stalking off very pissed off, after repeating “for me” and tapping her chest and looking pitiful several more times. (Since the person was working for me and it was in the middle of a shift, this became a problem.)

What interested me about this, in retrospect, was that she seemed to think that personalizing something meant she had no actual responsibility for what she said. And this assumption was so ingrained that she was shocked I’d question it. Almost like, “The rules say that if I say ‘for me,’ that ends all discussion of what I’ve actually said. How can you possibly break such an obvious rule of conversation?”

Of course, this is the rule a lot of places: If something (anything) can be framed as someone’s “personal experience,” then it’s totally out of the realm of questioning it. Even if their “personal experience” contains several dangerous assumptions about the world in general, it’s still their “personal experience,” and those who question or criticize it are committing some kind of sin.

It reminds me of a guy, years back, who told me that he was a racist (that’s the word he used to describe himself). He said that he, personally, believed that black people (he used a different word) were stupid and inferior to white people in almost all ways. But this was just his personal opinion, you know, and not everyone’s opinion, and it was just his experience of the world, so I shouldn’t question it. It wasn’t like he was actually trying to speak for anyone else, or anything.

Interestingly enough, same guy, was groping a girl who kept telling him to stop touching her and to get his hands off her. (Note: I knew both of them relatively well, this wasn’t a stranger sort of situation.) I intervened, and the girl told me off, saying that she personally enjoyed having a guy touch her when she said not to and that this had no particular effect on anyone else. I don’t want to know if this guy has raped or sexually assaulted anyone by now, but I would be shocked if he hasn’t.

It seems that just about anything becomes okay if it’s “just personal experience” or “just personal preference,” and people seem to believe that what they do is in some bubble that doesn’t affect anyone else.