I had two conversations last week with two completely different friends, talking about my writing and more generally the field I’ve stumbled into. (Note: not a day passes that I don’t regret focusing on something this heavy.) It was interesting to see how they took completely different approaches, and how I disagree with both.
The first friend reckons you just can’t talk about the subject at all. It’s become virtually impossible to say what needs to be said without incurring accusations of victim blaming or misogyny, so there is no point in even trying. You’d have to leave out so much information that it would make the whole thing worthless, and you’d still probably get lynched.
I agree with the fact that the whole subject is a minefield. That doesn’t make me want to stop trying, though – the fact that an increasing number of people are missing out on knowledge they need makes me want to try harder, not give up. The important thing for me is getting the message across, not winning a popularity context.
I do, however, think that it’s critically important to try and get the message across in a manner as uncontroversial as possible, which seems to be increasingly hard to do. This day and age, there’s very little anyone can say that won’t offend (or mock-offend, now that “being offended” has been weaponised) someone. I still think it’s important to try, though, and I raised this issue with the second friend.
His opinion was that I shouldn’t be concerned about that at all. I should just say what needs to be said and let people screech about it if they so wish. Chances are that some ill-mannered extremist will go off on one and actually save me a job by proving how much saner my view of the world is.
To a certain extent, I can see the value of that point. These days, if you want to avoid saying anything controversial, your only option is shutting up. That’s not what I’m on about. What I’m concerned about the message getting heard, which is why I think softening blows whenever practical is terribly important.
Genuinely insulted or hurt people don’t tend to hear you very well. The moment people’s backs go up, they become infinitely more concerned with defending their position, their worldview, their ego, than with honestly evaluating the information you are presenting. Yes, there is a minority of people that will have that reaction no matter how mildly you present your case, but they are still a minority. They might screech the loudest, but I don’t believe they are terribly representative of the whole of the population. I think the vast majority can still be reached, provided a modicum of care is taken in the process.
As far as I’m concerned the important thing is getting the message across. I know I can’t do that and spare everyone’s feelings, because of the nature of the field. I can’t do that by ignoring everyone’s feelings either, though. And finding a happy medium is tricky as hell, but I can’t see a viable alternative.