How to not make a bad situation worse

Welcome to the internet, my pretties. You're probably reading this because some shit just went down. Whoa, totally makes you lose your faith in humanity right? Declare the equivalent of moving to Canada via rage quit? I'm with ya. 

So, take a deep breath and let the rage subside a little. What can we do so this incident repeats itself with less frequency?

Step one: check yourself before you wreck yourself

The hardest part about this whole process is that many people that are on the receiving end of this kind of stuff know it isn't an isolated incident - this isn't the first time it's happened, this is maybe just the first time you've noticed it. Additionally, the people who are on the receiving end of this kind of behavior on a regular basis are frustrated because people don't learn when other people make these mistakes. Think of it like a conveyor belt: you explain to one person why what they did was wrong, but there is an infinite line of people behind them ready to make the same mistake. It's tiring.

Let's get into personal responsibility. Take a seat and buckle up, we're expecting a little turbulence.

You've fucked up

Maybe someone couldn't handle speaking up to you about it (this is not an uncommon thing, considering the average reaction), but it's likely you've made this mistake in the past. Recognize it, own it. Realize that everyone makes mistakes and it isn't the end of the world. I consider myself pretty versed in a lot of issues and I've gotten rightly called out on twitter and in conversations for saying things that I shouldn't have. It happens to all of us.

This is hard for a lot of people (myself included) because the vast majority of us don't want to hurt others, we don't want to create an atmosphere where someone feels unwelcome or even physically threatened. Coming to terms with the fact that you may have done that sucks, there's no better way to put it. 

Pro tip! 

Yeah, your pride is probably a little bruised, but you'll recover. Don't make it worse by calling people names, being verbally or physically threatening, or publicly harassing the person you've wronged. There's no coming back from that.

You have an opportunity to right the ship before you lose your shit, though. Oh man, I really hurt this person is on a different continent from OMFG NO U! So choose your next steps wisely. 

Take a deep breath.

Learn how to apologize

  1. Acknowledge it.
    1. If confronted: You're right, that was out of line.
    2. If you realize it first: Actually, lemme stop for a second. What I just did was wrong.
  2. Apologize.
    1. I'm sorry. (Yup, it's totes that easy.)
  3. Make amends. 
    1. What can I do to make it up to you?
  4. Learn
    1. Take time to fully understand why what you did was wrong.

Apologizing is more an art than a science. Sure, it has specific ingredients, but there are subtleties that the recipe misses.  Mainly sincerity, which means all apologies should lack excuses. If you say the word "but" anywhere in your attempt, it is not an apology; stop yourself and start over again.

Everyone has received an apology that they didn't believe. Be mindful of your tone, your volume, your words, and the setting.

Step two: if you see something, say something

The person on the receiving end of poor or dangerous behavior can't always speak up for themselves without worrying about things like being treated worse, being ganged up on, or retribution. When you step in, say "hey, not cool", and employ your best mega-frown a la Grumpy Cat, you're saying other people recognize what they're doing and it's not acceptable. This takes the pressure off of the victim (for lack of a better term) who is already having to deal with a flood of their own emotions (insecurity, fear, anger, anxiety, panic, etc). Everyone is responsible for helping to uphold the Golden Rule

The level of "call them out on that" varies depending on the person, relationship, context, and the situation. Use your best judgement according to this handy dandy escalation list:

  1. Pull them aside privately or email them and explain the situation to them.
  2. Stop them immediately and tell 'em what's up.
  3. Get an authority figure involved (boss, conference organizer, business owner, a respected third party - whatever is situationally appropriate).
  4. Take it to the the streets. If all other avenues have failed you or if the situation is severe enough, get help from wherever you can.
  5. Get the cops involved. If someone has done something illegal or has become physically, verbally, or emotionally threatening, drop everything and call the cops immediately.

Pro tip!

If someone accuses you of White Knighting, remind them that you're a human that expects other humans to be treated with respect, full stop. Feel free to use this totally scientific equation:

When you did/said ________, I felt __________.

Letting bad behavior slide shows everyone in the community that it's acceptable to do those things. It's not. You don't want that in your community and I don't want it in mine.

Step three: dftba - don't forget to be awesome

You've graduated and are ready to go out into the world planting flowers everywhere you go and high fiving everyone you see. So what's next?

  • Encourage people to get to know people who aren't like them. This is what I like to call the Empathy Trojan Horse. You're more likely to see a situation from someone else's perspective when you can put yourself or someone you know in their shoes.
  • Proactively discuss community issues with friends and help them to see why it's an issue in the first place. The more we talk about these problems, the more we can start modeling good behavior and eradicating the bad stuff.
  • Talk to conferences and companies about putting in a code of conduct. And offer to help!
  • Make the world a better place. Volunteer to help with community-based organizations that aim to either help bring more people into the community or help support the people that are already here.
  • Speak out publicly about these issues, explain how to combat them, and urge people to help you.

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