Learning To Fight Defensiveness For More Productive Behavior

NOTE from 2021: When I noticed my blog was getting hacked in February of 2020 I did some quick fixes and somehow all of my draft posts from the previous 16 years ended up assigned to that month. This is one of those posts. I used the context to “guess” when I actually wrote it so if anything about this publication date seems off to future me…I wanted this note here to explain possible errors.

I feel like – at least once a week – I’m trying to push the snowball of defensiveness back up the hill as it starts to roll down so that I can instead, find a more productive way to respond to a situation. This metaphor is perfect for my own defensive reactions because – in the past – I start feeling a little defensive and once I acknowledge that and defend myself…it becomes my entire focus UNTIL EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THIS THING ABOUT ME IS NOT TRUE which is about 0% effective in convincing something this thing about me is not true.

At least – that was me. I have since learned that nothing good comes from a defensive reaction. NOTHING. But once one starts…it’s hard to stop it.

It works like this: Someone says something that hits home for me and that triggers my “NO WAY! THAT IS NOT RIGHT!” defensive response. Now, either the thing actually has some truth to it, or it doesn’t. I’ve learned to sit for a moment and see if the thing has some truth to it, and then to sit with that truth for a moment longer to see if maybe I need to really learn or grow from that truth.

If my response is: BUT NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE! or BUT NOT ALL MOMS! or BUT NOT ALL WOMEN! or BUT NOT ALL LIBERALS! then a lot of time I’m defensive because I realize I’ve done nothing proactive to make it known I’m NOT part of that group. Yes – not all White People refuse to acknowledge their own privilege, but the majority do so instead of defending myself maybe I should recognize the problem most white people have with recognizing their privilege and try to be part of the solution instead of using my voice to center the discussion around me: HERO WHITE PERSON.

(And yes, not all white people want to be the white savior but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I often am subconsciously trying to wear that crown.)

So sometimes the thing making me defensive has some truth in it and I need to sit with that.

But what if there’s NO truth to it? “Democrats are ruining our country!” Because the snowball of defensiveness rolls down the hill just as quickly then and if there’s no “truth” to sit with and learn from, how do I stop it?

1) Can the person be reasoned with? If so…I try to discuss the issue with them WITHOUT defensiveness coming into play because if you are defending YOURSELF the other person feels the need to defend THEMSELVES and nothing productive comes from conversation where two people are in DEFENSE mode. Instead – acknowledge that there could be a perspective that makes their accusation valid, but maybe if you try looking at it from this perspective instead then you might see the same result in another light.

2) Can the person NOT be reasoned with? THEN LET IT GO. This is the hardest for me. Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t jump in on a debate with facts and sources, but let go of the defensiveness 100% completely because if this person is going to hold on to falsehoods regardless of evidence presented to the contrary, then move on to find someone else in the first example. This has been the hardest thing to do, is to recognize that burning my energy on defending myself and my politics to people who will never even remotely agree with me ON PRINCIPLE ALONE…is a waste of energy. And in this political age, I only have so much energy and I want to make sure I’m using it efficiently.

The new thing I’ve had to really sit with is cultural appropriation. That article has so many great lines, especially about treating things like feathered headresses and bindis as fashion accessories: “When you can’t see the humanity in people who are different from you, you find no fault in treating their sacred cultural symbols as something to be worn and discarded.” Or when adopting a hairstyle that could get you fired or reprimanded if you were black. “Black hairstyles are not “lewks to try” when you want to feel “edgy,” only to discard them once you’re bored and ready to retreat back to your privileged bubble.”

I used to want dreadlocks. It was something I saw on a lot of hippies in my circle in college and I even helped do beaded wraps for many friends with locs. I was dumb. Now, there’s plenty of debate that the origin of locs are so varied that they don’t belong to any one culture but the point is: Some cultures connect to the hairstyles and my culture (White Suburban Mom) does not. So, should I borrow from a cultures that I don’t even acknowledge, study, or celebrate in some manner? No. That’s when it’s appropriation.

And this has been HARD because I’ve talked about wanting locs for DECADES and now I’m embarrassed by past Kim. Just like past Kim who loved purses that looked like they were made by a Native American. But did I know anything about that culture? No. Did I appreciate it in any way? No. Did I actually buy it at Wal-Mart and not even allow my money to help the culture I was stealing from? Yep.

Sitting in discomfort instead of getting defensive has helped me become a better member of this global community time and time again. Learning to debate politics without attaching my defensiveness has made me a better messenger for progressive ideals.

And if I’m not sure if I’m reacting defensively – I stop and ask myself, “Is, ‘not all [insert descriptor here]’ in my response somewhere? Then I’m being defensive.” If you don’t want to be seen as part of a bigger group, then make sure you ACT AS THOUGH YOU ARE NOT PART OF IT. I don’t want my friends of color to think I am a white person blind to my own privilege. So, instead of saying, “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE!” when they bring it up, I instead am constantly talking TO THE WHITE PEOPLE in my group about how we are all privileged. I share out articles and videos discussing this.

If you don’t want to be grouped with homophobic Christians, then make sure there’s no mistaking that you might be part of that group. Share out Pro-Christian Gay stuff on Facebook and talk about it to your friends. Be a loud voice of support in your religious community so no one accidentally groups you with the anti-gay crowd. If the only time you ever speak your support for LGBTQ people is when you’re saying, “NOT ALL CHRISTIANS!” to my article about how religious communities shun Trans people, then you’re acting on unproductive defensiveness. Instead, read my article, sit with it, and be the voice for change in your church or community.

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