In our interconnected world where people feel free to say things from the safety of their keyboard which they wouldn’t say in person over a cup of coffee, we’ve all seen our share of bad allies. They’re the people who want to support you, but they don’t know how and end up hurting you instead.
We are all bad allies
I’m not kidding – take a moment for that to sink in.
Now let me explain what I mean –
I’m not saying you’re a bad person. I’m saying that you’re not always the right person. And, more importantly, I’m telling you that it’s important to know when you’re not the right person and then let that knowledge impact your actions.
Example 1: That Friend on Facebook
This takes many forms, but it’s the person on social media wants to help champion a cause – probably your cause – but then they dillute your message and get angry when someone calls them out.
I know a person, we’ll call him Raphael – well meaning, kind, helpful, big hearted – who did just that. A mutual friend made a post about the impact of the societal assumption that the worth of a woman is tied up in bearing children. He then took it a step further to broaden the scope.
Unfortunately, broadening the scope also weakens the message. Usually that sort of broad message is best addressed elsewhere instead of inserting it to derail the conversation at hand.
Still not sure where I’m going with this? Think of that well-meaning aunt who makes an All Lives Matter comment while you’re in the middle of discussing a distinctly Black Lives Matter topic. Now you see where I’m headed.
The people in this conversation, knowing the kind of person Raphael is, kindly steered the conversation back into place and asked him politely to be more mindful. Raphael, unfortunately, didn’t take the hint. He dug his heels in, and – clearly ignorant of what he was doing – started supporting his position in a way which was insulting to the other people in the conversation. In the end, one of the other people in the thread came out and told him bluntly that he was being a bad ally.
My point here is that we all have baggage. We all have bias. We all have blindspots.
We all carry within us the possibility of being a Raphael.
- Be open to correction.
Example 2: Me
Helping others succeed is something which is important to me, but even in that area, there are situations where I am not fit to be an ally.
If a person has completely fallen apart, is totally lost, is consumed by the ways they’ve been victomized or controlled by addition or other people. Then I’m rarely, if ever, an effective ally.
I’m not motivated by empathy or sympathy, and I probably never will be. Why? Baggage.
I’m a passionate person, so my emotions are a prime hook for manipulators to take advantage of me. I’ve fallen prey to that more times than I can admit to even myself, so the tricks I’ve learned to protect myself have also created walls which don’t allow my emotions to be a trigger for giving anymore.
I’m not sure I’ll ever change. But I will at least be honest. I will genuinely listen, and will tell you that if you need help then I need a concrete request because an amorphous plea for help will not register.
That doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes a person is so lost that they need someone to reach out and drive the help. Because I am not that person, I will fail to be the ally which some people need. Time and time again, I will fail.
I know this, and instead of trying to become someone I’m not, I’m working on 2 things:
- Communication. Clearly expressing both my own shortcomings, and what I need to receive in order to give effectively
- Learning. While I may never be good at being this kind of ally, I can learn to be less bad at it. For me this will be a long road, but it’s one worth walking.
Admit your shortcomings. Trying to become something your not is a futile struggle, so don’t think I’m encouraging you to try. Be true to yourself, but become the best possible version of yourself.
The key is to not expend all of your energy trying to be an ally where you are unequipped to be one.
- Expend that energy on your strengths. Where you can be a good ally, become a great one.
- Where you are going to be a poor ally, learn enough to not hurt those you intend to help.
When you get it wrong – and you will get it wrong
Take responsibility and make it right.