Assume Better

A Selfish Reason for Choosing Compassion

I was driving to work the other day, in typical morning rush hour traffic, and another driver was being far too fast and aggressive: weaving through traffic, riding bumpers, cutting people off. When they cut in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes which almost caused me to be rear-ended, I got mad. This driver was being a jerk: selfish, road hog, inconsiderate, dangerous. Why do they think they have more right to the road than any of the rest of us?

This morning, the same thing: overly aggressive driver, going too fast, riding bumpers, cutting people off. But this time, I saw the look on the driver’s face as they passed me:

Weeping. Sadness. Panic.

They were clearly in the midst of some kind of emergency. This person had a reason they needed to get somewhere quickly. They weren’t just being selfish and inconsiderate. Their need for the road actually was more important than mine.

This doesn’t excuse the dangerous driving: that was still a problem for the rest of us. But instead of getting angry, I felt empathy. I had compassion for this driver. I wondered what they faced and hoped they could get where they needed to be on time, without causing an accident.

In my first example, when I got angry at the other driver, it left me in a bad mood. My hackles rose, I was geared up for conflict with no way to resolve it. I got to work feeling on edge, in a negative headspace. This was not a useful way for me to start my day. It didn’t help me do my work.

This morning, when I felt compassion and sympathy for the other driver, it left me in a much better headspace. Compassion is a far more useful emotion to bring into the public service work I do.

The reality is neither driver will ever know how I reacted to them, nor how my reactions affected my mood. My reactions have no impact on them whatsoever. But the ways I react in these circumstances has a profound effect on me. When I assumed the other driver was selfish and inconsiderate, it affected me in a very negative way. When I assumed more positively about the other driver, it made my day better.

This got me thinking about how we make assumptions.

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Ridding Ourselves of Problematic Language

Or: Doing the Right and Decent Thing Has All Kinds of Benefits for Everyone, Including You

**Disclaimer: The following contains discussion of words and phrases which are harmful to some people. I do not use these words and phrases with intent to harm, but as examples of the subject.**

I recently came across this article about ableist language:

The harmful ableist language you unknowingly use
(by Sara Nović, published by the BBC, Apr. 5, 2021, last accessed Jul. 26, 2022)

It’s a good examination of how deeply ableist language is embedded in our culture and the harm it does. For many of us, we don’t intend any harm when we use ableist phrases. These are simply phrases that are common in our surroundings and we use them unthinkingly. Most of us don’t even realize some of these terms are prejudiced. Which is why I’m grateful for articles like this one. I care about other people and I don’t want to cause someone harm. Knowing more about ableist language helps me avoid causing harm.

Within this article, there’s a link to an excellent post which lists alternate terms we can use instead:

Ableism/Language
(by Lydia X. Z. Brown, published on personal blog, last updated Nov. 16, 2021, last accessed Jul. 26, 2022)

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I Did It

I did it. Here’s a pic of my bookshelves in 2015 when I first set them up:

Bookshelves

Here’s a pic of my bookshelves now:

Bookshelves weeded

I ended up weeding half of my collection and donated it all to my local public library friends group for them to use in their fundraising efforts. And it feels good!

I talk a lot about how grad school changed my sense of the value of books. But there was another essential change that happened, one which better explains why I did this.

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I Think I Should Get Rid of My Books

I’m thinking about getting rid of most of my books. I’ve been considering this idea for some time now. I look at my bookshelves at home and wonder what good all these books are doing. I’m never going to reread the overwhelming majority of them. There are some books I own that I’ve never read and I really don’t think I ever will at this point. They’re just sitting there.

What good is a book that’s not being used? *

How much good could my books do if I gave them away? Organizations like library friends’ groups could use them to fundraise. Used bookstores could put them into the hands of people who’ll actually read them. Various social support agencies are always looking for reading material for their clients.

It starts to feel selfish of me to hoard books that I’m not reading. That, in all likelihood, I’ll never read again.

It’s worth examining why I collected all my books in the first place.

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Pandemic: Stress, Anxiety, Fear & Uncertainty

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a weekday and I’ve been awake for half an hour. My phone dings with a new text message: A staff member reporting they’re sick and won’t be in today. So begins the scramble to find last minute coverage for their shift.

This used to happen maybe once or twice a month, a few times a year.

It happens multiple times a month now, sometimes multiple times in a single week. Some have symptoms or a positive test and need to quarantine, some are waiting for test results, some are simply worried about a possible exposure and don’t want to risk exposing coworkers. Scheduling has become incredibly unpredictable and coverage is stretched thin.

It’s gotten to the point that I wake up every morning with a low-key dread sitting in my stomach, waiting for my phone to ding. I have a visceral anxious reaction every time it does.

I didn’t used to have this reaction.

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2021: My Year in Reading

I read 57 books in 2021, which is surprising, given that I didn’t want to read all that much this year and went weeks at a time without cracking open a book.

I also started watching more TV this year. My TV watching has been abnormally low for the past few years—partly due to being distracted by the internet and partly due to self-consciousness and a reluctance to watch stuff by myself. I’ve always been this way: I don’t like using the TV to watch stuff no one else in the house is interested in. I love watching with other people, I’m just not comfortable using a shared TV to watch things only for me.

So this year, we set up a second TV in our back room where I can go watch by myself without worrying about it. It’s also a smart TV, so I can stream YouTube full screen and Bluetooth connect my noise cancelling headphones to it. (First world solutions for first world problems.) I spent a good amount of time catching up on some of the shows I’ve missed, which is nice.

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Ditch the Small Talk

When I was younger, I was very much one of those people who hated small talk. I’m a strong introvert and I was painfully shy as a child. Small talk was too much social effort for something I considered trivial and unimportant. If I had to interact with people, I would much prefer to share deep meaningful conversation than chat about nothing. Deep meaningful conversation is worth the energy; small talk costs too much for something with no substance.

I reconsidered my stance on small talk as I got older. For one thing, I grew less shy and less frightened by the prospect of interacting with strangers. But, too, I realized it’s a matter of respect. I have to earn the right to know someone’s deepest thoughts and feelings. That’s not a level of intimacy I can demand from anyone. You have to earn a person’s trust first and that takes time. It requires an investment of attention and care. Relationships matter more than any single conversation, and I need to do the work to build a relationship so someone will know they’re safe to share more meaningful things with me.

Small talk is how people start to establish that sense of safety with each other. It’s how people feel each other out without too much risk to start. It’s the first step on a path to earn someone’s trust.

But then I read this article:

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Reconsidering My Career Goals

I decided pretty early on in graduate school that I wanted to be a library director someday. I could picture myself in that role and I wanted it. That’s how I knew librarianship was the right career for me: it’s literally the only thing I’ve ever done in my life where I want to take on that level of responsibility.

I’ve been questioning this goal over the past few years, though. I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I don’t want to be a director anymore. This sounds like a major shift in my goals but it doesn’t actually feel like it. I don’t feel like my goals have changed. This career still feels right for me.

I’ve realized that library director wasn’t my goal: it was an assumption I had made about my goal. My goal, put simply, is this:

To do the most good I can for my community and my chosen profession.

I assumed library director would be the role where I could do the most good. I now believe this assumption was incorrect.

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Masterpost of My Current Beliefs about Queer Identities

I’ve posted somewhat often over the past few years about queer identities and the issues surrounding them. I think it might be useful to try and gather together my thoughts and offer a mostly comprehensive explanation of my beliefs.

Let me be clear: I have very strong beliefs and principles around this—fundamental value buttons—so I’ll do my best to lay out my perspective as clearly as I can. Forgive me if this gets long-winded. Brevity may be the soul of wit but it’s not the soul of precision nor comprehensive and nuanced understanding.

Keeping up with the vocabulary is one of the biggest challenges of committing to being a queer ally and accomplice, which is something I’ve commitment myself to. The vocabulary around queer identities is in a state of flux and changes frequently. Culture evolves, politics change, movements coalesce and grow and fracture, visibility and acceptance waxes and wanes, and language changes concomitantly. It’s also worth noting that the “queer community” isn’t a monolith and there’s disagreement between queer folk about what words should be used and what they should mean.

Part of the challenge is that English has a poverty of words sufficient to describe the variety of queer experiences. We have to make due with many words that aren’t quite good enough, or try to convince people to accept new words we invent. Neither option is ideal. We do the best we can.

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Grammar Doesn’t Matter

A Rant about the Arguments over “They/Them” Pronouns

Once again, I see arguments online about the grammaticality of the singular “they/them” pronoun. People yelling that it can’t be singular and using it that way is just confusing and it’s therefore illegitimate, followed by people illuminating the history of the word and pointing out that language changes all the time anyway and citing numerous examples of how easy singular “they” is to understand in practice. I, myself, have done the latter on multiple occasions. And I’ve come to the following conclusion:

This is all bullshit distraction. The grammar DOES NOT MATTER.

Trans youth are at the highest risk of suicide of any group in our country. When trans youth have adults in their lives who support and affirm their chosen gender identity, their risk of suicide drops by half.

Using people’s preferred pronouns can help save lives.

Trans folk of all ages are at elevated risk of violence, suicide, employment discrimination, healthcare discrimination, homelessness, and incarceration. When communities support and affirm trans identities these risks are substantially reduced.

Using people’s preferred pronouns can help save lives.

I don’t give a shit about grammar. People’s lives are at stake.

If you’re more concerned about grammar than the lives and well-being of actual people, your position is morally indefensible.

I personally found the singular “they/them” confusing at first. It contradicts a lifetime of grammatical conditioning and it took time for me to get used to it. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever not be confused by of most of the newly invented gender-neutral pronouns that have been introduced over the past few years. I’m afraid of messing them up. I’m afraid I’ll hurt someone if I get their pronouns wrong, and I’m afraid of how people might judge me for my mistakes.

My confusion doesn’t matter.

If using preferred pronouns can help a trans kid turn away from contemplating suicide, I’ll do it whether I understand the language or not. If using preferred pronouns helps a trans person feel accepted and affirmed, I’ll do it. If using preferred pronouns contributes even in some small way to building a more accepting and supportive culture, one which materially improves the lives of people and reduces suicide rates, then HELL YES I’ll do it. I have a moral obligation to do it.

I don’t give a shit how confusing it is.

There’s no morally defensible position which can hold my personal confusion as more important than the lives and well-being of other people. Pronouns may confuse me but they don’t do me any actual harm. If using them can materially improve the lives of trans individuals, then I’m happy to be confused.

We need to stop engaging with arguments about grammar. Engaging in this allows TERFs and transphobes to control the terms of the argument. It grants de facto legitimacy to an anti-trans platform that should never be legitimized. It’s a distraction and a sidetrack and we keep falling for it. We have to stop.

People’s lives and well being will always matter more than any concerns about grammar.

Anyone who argues about the grammar of pronouns for trans folk has no legitimate argument to make.