She sat at the breakfast table with me, just because she wanted to talk. Right now she’s into Steven Universe. “You’d like it,” she says, and tells me about an episode where Pearl wants to show Steven that physical strength isn’t everything, that there’s a different strength in the people who do daily scut work to keep households and nations active. I agree that it sounds nice, and as I finish my porridge, we talk about being a reasonably awesome human being.
The goal is, of course, to be awesome on a daily basis. But not the jackass frat boy sense. Reasonably awesome.
How, do you ask, can someone be reasonably awesome? Here follows a short list.
* Admit your fucking privilege. I’ve benefited from many forms of privilege in my life, and suffered a few forms of discrimination as well. Discrimination against me in one area (I’m female on the internet) does not give me leeway to be an asshole over my privilege in another (my skin tone means I’m less likely to be shot wearing a hoodie on my morning run). It doesn’t hurt to admit that, especially when listening to other peoples’ experiences.
* Admit your fuckups. Want to know one thing I never, ever heard from parental figures while I was growing up?
“I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
Many are the assholes who think admitting they were mistaken or just plain wrong somehow robs them of something. I say those five words daily, and have ever since I became a mother. It can range from “you know, I was wrong when I put you in time-out for that, I should have been more patient,” to “Remember when I explained Celsius and Fahrenheit to you? I had the conversion wrong, sorry,” or “You guys tasked me with putting together email for the site and I did it wrong. I’m fixing it now.” Getting in the habit of acknowledging your mistakes makes you a better human being. You fix it (or do your best to) and move on.
* Consider shutting up sometimes. In the immortal words of Elon James, when you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, you could just say nothing. I think Mark Twain observed it’s better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt, sometimes. If a rancid bit of asshattery is about to escape your mouth, or you know you’re already irritated and frustrated, take the opportunity to just keep your lips buttoned for a few minutes and think about keeping it zipped until you have something reasonable to say.
* But not when someone is an asshat in your presence. From the jock father who was letting his sons roughhouse in the baking aisle (right next to glass containers of every kind of oil known to cooking) who said “Don’t yell at my kids!” when I told said spawn to cut it out (“Parent them and I won’t have to,” I snapped in return) to the woman calling another woman in a hijab nasty names in the produce aisle (“Just shut up, she’s not making YOU wear a scarf,” I said, hefting an apple and visibly considering bouncing it off her fool skull), I try not to let people get away unscathed from asshattery. Of course, this is a rule best applied with a little forethought. But if you see something, say something. Even something as simple as “I’m sorry that person is being an asshole,” can change the entire situation. Especially if you have a bit of privilege, you can often perform a bit of interpersonal judo to even things out. And yes, in volatile situations you might get yelled at. Most people will do just about anything to avoid being perceived as the asshole in any particular situation, and calling them on it is a powerful tool evoking powerful responses.
* Stay done. Remember the SquirrelTerror plagiarism incident? Something I said then has stuck with me since: when I say I’m done, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven or forgotten, or have accepted anything at all. It simply means I am not wasting any more energy on that asshole. If someone isn’t arguing in good faith, if someone is an inveterate racist and they don’t want to be anything else, if someone is toxic and doesn’t give a fuck for other people, fine, they can do all that somewhere else. I don’t have to lend myself to it, and I do not have to keep throwing good effort after bad. Staying done means just that: don’t respond afterward. Refusing to deal with someone is a powerful tool, too.
* Share the limelight. Success for other people means more success for me, too, and nowhere is that more true (and more ignored) than in publishing. I do not lose anything by drawing attention to something awesome someone else is doing. Rather, I benefit from more awesome in the world. Find ways to spread the word about cool stuff instead of banging your own gong all the time. It’s far more satisfying.
* Take a notebook with you. Remember that scene in Hot Fuzz where Simon Pegg is simply making notes in his little journal? Nothing calms a situation down–or makes people behave–like you writing down everything they say. You don’t even have to be expecting trouble; I take a notebook to every meeting, and at the beginning write down the date and time. Just in case. Also, when you hear a particularly good bit of dialogue you want to write down for a story, nothing beats having pen and paper to hand.
* Don’t just be quiet. Think. Listening is an active state. Pay attention, whether it’s a dog whining to tell you it’s time for a bathroom break to the LGBT activist on Twitter detailing insidious behavior you’ve never thought about before. Sometimes, it’s not enough just to shut the fuck up, you have to exercise the meat between your ears as well.
* Be kind. Even the most reasonable person has certain days where their Wheaties have been pissed in. Even the nicest kid has a hormone rush or a meltdown every now and again. Even the most socially conscious blogger has a rough morning. I’m not saying to excuse intolerant fuckwaddery here. I am saying, you can be a kind person and still not allow fuckwaddery in your presence.
* Listen to reason. Friends are good. Invest in your friends, once they have earned your trust. And when a friend you trust says, “You are being an asshole,” listen. (Do you know how many times the Selkie has saved me from being an asshole? A WHOLE LOT.) There is nothing so precious as the person who loves you and will call you on your bullshit. Don’t ever minimize, overlook, or ignore that.
* Admit your own fuckwaddery. You know, this is really another way of saying “admit your fuckups,” but what the hell, I think it bears repeating. I’ve been too harsh on people. I’ve been dismissive. I’ve been critical, unpleasant, high-handed, and sometimes even just plain selfish. Admitting it is the first step to apologizing and making amends where one can. Where one cannot, admission is the first step to regret, and all the above leads to the whole point: doing better next time.
One of the highest bits of praise in my particular lexicon is “X is a reasonable human being.” It can mean they’re kind, or truthful, or that they admit when they’ve made a mistake, or they’re willing to listen to reason. Often, it means the person has shown they are all of the above, and more. So when I say, “be reasonably awesome,” you now understand what that means.
I know this isn’t an exhaustive list. (And really, this is like the Pirate Code.) So, my darling chickadees, it’s your turn. Fill up the comments with more Guidelines For Being Reasonably Awesome. Given what day it is, I think it’s a fine idea.