I’ve been thinking about the Miami Dolphins locker room culture for a while now, ever since the independent investigator the Dolphins and the NFL hired released the official report on its findings. It made me sad for Jonathan Martin; based on what was in the report, he seems like an intelligent, sensitive guy who is also physically big and strong. This guy is everything a modern man is supposed to be and should have the world by the tail. Instead, his NFL career may be over because the pundits and the old guard of the world have deemed him weak. The report also made me sad for Richie Incognito because this guy still has no idea what he did wrong; nobody in his life has cared enough about him to teach him that bullying comes from a place of weakness rather than strength. From my perspective, when you’re as physically imposing as Incognito is, to have to bully in order to lead indicates failure.
I was at a barbecue at my friend A’s house, and one of her other friends said something about all women being manipulative and cruel, and because I had the Dolphins locker room on my mind, I snapped at him and brought the mood of the room down by starting a conversation about it. (I promise I will try to be lighter and more pleasant if any of you invite me to one of your social gatherings.) One of the other women there said something about not understanding sensitive people at all, told a story about stopping a bully from torturing her sensitive younger brother, and finding that he thought she’d made things worse. She equated sensitivity with weakness, and then A jumped in with her mad diplomatic skills and explained that sensitivity and weakness are not the same thing. One day, I hope to be as diplomatic as she was in that moment.
I’ve been thinking about the sensitive people in the world; in my immediate family, I’m not considered to be one of the sensitive ones, and I’m also therefore not one of the considerate ones. This hurts, and I also think it’s unfair because according to the sensitive people in my family, sensitivity involves knowing when someone who’s said x actually means y. As someone who strives to be transparent in all her dealings, this frustrates me.
It occurred to me, though, that it’s actually the sensitive people in the world who effect change. You’d think that it was the super tough people, the ones who can power through anything, who effect change, but it’s precisely because we can power through that we tend not to put our energy into making the world better. We may perceive injustice, it may pierce our souls as deeply as it does the sensitive among us, but we persevere. We achieve in the face of unfairness and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and we celebrate that as an accomplishment, as a demonstration of strength.
I don’t think that’s wrong. Powering through is an achievement, and it takes work and a stiff upper lip. I’ve realized in the last few weeks, though, that driving systemic cultural change requires more work and a stiffer upper lip, and that the catalysts for this kind of seismic change is often a sensitive person who simply cannot stand the injustice anymore. I get to vote because trailblazing, sensitive women in the early part of the last century didn’t want to keep their noses to the grindstone trying to make the system work as best it could for them. The injustice pained them too keenly to be satisfied with persuading the men in their lives to vote the way the women in their lives wanted them to.
We’ve made progress in racial equality in this country because in the 1960s, instead of keeping their heads down and out of the line of sight of racist thugs, powering through as best they could through a culture that was wrong, some overly sensitive African-Americans had enough of the bullshit and stood up and called the country on it. (I realize that I have oversimplified in both my examples here, and I’m sorry for it; I’m also trying to meet my self-imposed Monday deadline. I will also apologize here for my sentence-paragraph.)
I’ve always wondered if I lived in the Star Wars universe whether I would be strong enough to work for the Rebel Alliance. We all want to be heroes, or at the very least, on the same side as the good guys. Powering through has been my motto for as long as I can remember, though. If I want to be a good guy, I think I need to get more serious about being more sensitive. (I still refuse to try to be psychic.)