It’s the difference between “I’m sorry” and “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
The words sound the same, but the structure… the structure tells a different story. With the former, there’s onus on the person who is speaking. With the second, that onus has been placed on the person who is being spoken to, blame shifted with four simple words. Four short syllables.
I’ve been thinking about the power of words a lot lately, and how they’re often used to shift ideas in harmful ways. An example involves a meeting that took place two weeks ago between Marvel and some of their high end direct market clientele, in which Marvel’s head of PR made some choice comments about diversity.
You might have seen the headlines. The majority of them stated that Marvel is abandoning efforts to add diversity to their titles. But… that’s not what the PR man actually said.
In talking to this room of old school retailers, the Marvel rep talked about how the room kept talking about how the company’s efforts towards diversity weren’t working “We’re hearing that” was a phrase that was often used. “You’re telling us”. Never did the representative say that specific books in the line weren’t working he merely made leading statements, and never once said a thing that took responsibility.
It’s easy to use words as slight of hand to say what you mean without taking any blame for the action. We’re seeing it every day in American politics. Or whatever, we see it every day in politics in general. Manipulation, pure and simple. Rewards and ideas without blame. Because just like with Marvel, it wasn’t something they said. It was something you said. Something you wanted.
I sometimes catch myself using these tactics, usually unintentionally, but sometimes with a sharp purpose. Because it’s not my fault. I’m the hero of this story. That’s me. The champion.
But here’s the real shit: none of us are heroes. We’re all just characters. We’re all filled with flaws, trying our best to navigate the world without too many hardships. In the end, if I’m standing around saying “well, if that’s what you want” when I’m thinking “well, that’s what I want too”, that doesn’t make me the hero.
If you want to be a hero, if that matters to you so much, think about what we all admire about our heroes. It’s usually a strength. A resolve. The ability and want to do and be good. Allowing blame to shift does not absolve you in the situation – it takes your share of the blame and places it on another. A hero doesn’t absolve themselves of decisions, they take responsibility for their actions, and they do it openly.
Like I said before, I’m not a hero. At best, I’m a poorly written character who is in desperate need of some courage. I’m working on that. But it’s hard when a simple “if that’s what you want” makes your hands so clean, if only for yourself.
The other day, I spoke about one of my favourite ideas: “Some people say if there isn’t anything after this, then what does it matter. I say, if there is nothing after this, then everything matters.”
If anything I do is meant to mean something, then it has to be with purpose, and I have to carry the responsibility of the decisions myself. I can’t hide behind manipulations. Because dammit, these things matter. Words matter. Everything, everything, everything fucking matters.
Thank you for reading these wandering missives over the past few days. If I’m being honest (and in a post about taking responsibility for our words, I should be), I’m doing this all for myself. To figure out who I am and where I want to be. The world is a fucked up place, and I don’t think I’ve been doing myself any favours over the past few months and years, and I want to be better. I want to own the decisions that I made. Especially the ones that I was complicit in, but refused to take responsibility for, either through deliberate action or inaction.
I’ll see you here again tomorrow.