Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dealing with aberrant behaviour

Hi, I'm Scott. This is my first blog post for Socializing Engineers; my posts will be labeled with "SSB" for your searching convenience.

I currently work as a internet nerd building websites for as well as occasionally maintain my hitchhiking-focused blog, I Smell Good. I'm living in Saskatoon for the summer, but I think I'm more migrational than most and I'm not sure where I will find myself in the coming months. Without more talkins, here we go!


I have very positive associations with rural Saskatchewan, Canada, and other English-speaking countries. Growing up, my family was scattered throughout the prairies and as such our holidays were always filled with excitement as we moved throughout the countryside. As an adult, these positive associations continue: I always feel extremely welcomed in whatever community I find myself in.

I'm always taken aback when my non-white friends relate their experiences in rural SK or elsewhere in which they experienced rudeness or racism. The cold reception seems completely uncharacteristic to me based on my rosy views of the countryside. Lately, I've found myself in rural settings while hitchhiking. Prior to using my now-de facto "I Smell Good" sign, I would often be picked up by grumpy dudes who perceive that they're doing me a favour by picking me up. They would often say that they were picking me up because I was white and that they wouldn't have picked up someone of [insert local minority here]. Unbeknownst to them, no favour to me includes hate speech.

Whenever I could tell the other person respected me to some degree, I would always call them out on their racism. "Actually, my best friend who I live with is Chinese and he's one of the most hard-working people I know -- far more so than myself!" I feel like this was well generally well received -- their own car/truck is often a safe space and they're receptive to my polite, respectful disagreement.

In recounting one such encounter like this to a friend, she brought up the point that perhaps this might not be the most effective way to effect a change in behaviour. By reacting in the moment, I might not be as rational as I could be, and my words might invoke feelings of shame. We agreed that we didn't t believe that using shame is an acceptable pedagogical tool, so I've really had to think about how I approach aberrant behaviour. While I may not be as quick to denounce aberrance when I see it, I feel like the times that I do are more effective.


  1. This is something that I struggle with a lot! I really feel like there's a time and place to address certain topics, because if you do it at the wrong time and place you basically just end up not being heard and possibly even damaging your, um, rhetorical influence potential? But then it's just really hard to judge when that right time might be. And it's compounded by my social awkwardness! I'm shy and a terrible conversationalist at the best of times (prone to generalities, scatterbrained, don't think before I speak), never mind confronting someone about a sensitive topic. Do you have any particular criteria that you use for judging your approach, or is it just gut feeling?

  2. PS Thanks for taking on the dreaded first post!

  3. Yes, thanks Scott!

    I struggle with this, too. It's a fine line between trying to genuinely help people understand why what they say can hurt people and expressing (often justified) outrage. I have a harder time dealing with the things that directly affect me - for instance, dismissing women engineers/drivers/writers/what-have-you often makes me lash out more at a person than prejudice I can personally approach without my own feelings involved.

    This is tricky, though. The idea of "rhetorical influence potential" (which I'll steal from Megan) makes sense, but it also means that being angry seems to allow people to dismiss you. Why shouldn't I (or anyone, really) be angry about something that's an emotional, divisive issue? I never really know what to do about the emotional side of these things, because it's important, but means that people take you less seriously. Sigh?

  4. MR: Gut feeling. I feel like I've met a lot of people in my life and I think I'm getting okay at reading people. Being better able to understand the emotions and motivations of others around me is one of the things that excites me about growing older.

    CA: That is a tricky thing. I think an emotional response can be seen as serious as a logical, calculated response, but it depends on the other individual. Let's meyers-brigg this shizzam and say that those Thinkers will probably be more receptive to a logical response, while those Feelers will probably be more receptive to an emotional response. Perhaps Thinkers are more likely to be abrasive towards anothers' feelings. You should read this article on shenpa:

    I think if one can identify that anger hook and see it for what it is, that person is one step closer to being able to prepare a logical response to the other if they so choose. I think understanding and being able to identify shenpa is really important when you have no choice but to coexist with those people who get your goat :)

  5. SSB: Fair enough. I guess the socially awkward among us (i.e. me) will just need to get even more experience when it comes to reading people.

    CAT: You probably already know this, but the whole anger vs. logical approach thing is pretty hotly contested when it comes to activism. Ultimately I think it's like Scott said, where some people will be more receptive to one or the other kind of response, so it takes all kinds, basically? Although I do think it's important to remember that even if something seems really evident to you, it may not be to the person you're dealing with, so you may be frustrated but they're just not informed. I'm trying to think of an example but I can't, so hopefully that's clear as is. A lot of people will argue that it's not your job to inform or educate them, but I'm not sure that's fair/productive in some cases. It's not like this stuff is taught in schools or anything, and a lot of people just don't have the time or desire to spend hours on the internet researching it.

    Maybe it should be taught in schools, actually. I know I had a media literacy class in high school, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to have a social/cultural literacy type of class as well.

  6. MR - Yeah, I know that, and I mostly think I come down on the side where it's best to adapt to the situation. I definitely think a social and cultural literacy/mediation skills class would be super valuable.