Recent real-life circumstances brought me back to a former place of employment, where I found myself going through the rigmarole of corporate job orientation. Many of us have been here: sitting in a too-cold room at way-too-early o’clock while drinking low-grade free coffee and watching a cheesy video that’s about a decade out of date. My discomfort aside, when we got to the core values of the company, the HR person made a point to tell us that one of these phrases had changed from ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’ to ‘treat others the way they would like to be treated.’ At the time, I just grunted into my coffee, but when I finally woke up, I thought about it more – that’s a pretty great way to check your privilege before saying/doing/creating something.
When someone says “thing X contains problematic items A and B” and someone else thinks ‘but thing X is my favorite, and A and B don’t bother me, plus the thought that someone might take issue with Thing X makes me uncomfortable.’ It feels personal. It’s not. That moment of ‘oh, well, it never bothered me, so why should you or I care?” is a pretty good example of only considering the way you want to be treated.
The corporate spiel for the reasoning behind their change in wording was because to treat someone they way they want to be treated requires you to get to know them. In the world of creative works, I feel this means that one acts with awareness, by thinking “who might be hurt by what I’m saying?”
Let me frame this with an example from my personal life. A few months back, the internet was abuzz with whether or not Tiny Tina of Borderlands 2 was portrayed in a racially insensitive manner. My first thought was, admittedly, “Borderlands 2 is my favorite thing! It doesn’t bother me, so why care?” And then I promptly checked myself (thanks, in part, to some very awesome people in my Google+ circles) because, for starts, I’m not black. This particular criticism isn’t about how I want to be treated, especially since I lack that point of view.
Continuing the Borderlands story, a friend asked if I thought the portrayal of the “savages” in Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt DLC was problematic. At first I said “no” – but then I corrected myself and said “Actually, you might find them troublesome.” It’s not about how I want to be treated. It’s about the self-awareness to know that, hey, not everyone might be okay with this. As a consumer, it’s your judgment call- which should inform where you spend your dollar. If you think Tiny Tina’s “ghetto talk” is hilarious, that’s perfectly fine – you’re a private citizen and you can like whatever the hell you want.
When you’re a content creator, though, there’s a much bigger picture at stake. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the blinders of privilege, and that’s okay. What’s NOT okay is refusing to learn from it. (For the record, Anthony Burch, lead writer of Borderlands 2, has been pretty awesome in his responses to this criticism.)
The next time you see someone speaking out about something, before you post that comment openly defending the content and telling the OP not to be so sensitive, check yourself. Ask, “who is this conversation really about?” and “do I have that perspective?” It’s probably not about you.
Treat others the way they want to be treated.