Thank you again Vivianne. I take your point about empathy and understanding over jumping to solutions to heart. When you are not having empathy for the pain of a situation, and when you are exhibiting the reasonable and positive desire to alleviate pain you are witnessing it’s so easy to just jump to trying to solve the problems. This is something that I as someone with a lot of privilege, not just in the white cis male way, but in the stable loving boring life history way find myself guilty of all the time… and I KNOW what’s going on, but I still have to stop myself and swallow my impulse to help and listen to things I don’t want to hear and feel things I don’t want to feel about them. I’m trying to be better about it and every reminder helps.
With regards to your problematic Principal, I think that the desensitized language of his response is a really good example of the mechanics of his privilege. I have heard language like that in the workplace a lot, and I had largely been thinking of it as ‘management speak’, but I think I was missing the point. People with a lot of privilege, and let’s face it; moving up the management ladder grants the privilege even more privilege, start to speak and interact in these ways. We make fun of it and look at people like the manager from Office Space and laugh at how much of an asshole they are. But then I see these kinds of behaviors in person, and often coming from people I know are on a basic level not simply colossal jerks.
I think what might be going on here is that in order to leverage the privilege that they have gained they are constantly acting in ways that disadvantage others, and that is at odds with their perceptions of self. Their language and mode of interaction and dogged refusal to empathize exist to allow them to use their privilege. That language is both armor and the levers that they use to employ their privilege.
So when we are asking someone like that to empathise we are also asking them to take off their armor and give up the ability to comfortably use their privilege to maintain their position in life. Of course I think they should, but it’s a hard thing to do… they might say ‘a big ask’, and maybe understanding that will help me to empathise with them enough to penetrate the armor and move them.