A product, not a replicate
Too many times I’ve heard people claim, “it’s just how I (they) was (were) raised” to excuse toxic or disrespectful behavior. It’s become so normalized to accept this, especially from older generations, but what I can’t shake off is how… lazy of an excuse it is. The majority of the time when I hear people say this, it isn’t preceded by a sincere apology and acknowledgement of hurting someone, nor is it followed by a solid attempt to fix that behavior — it’s simply stated as a way to distance themselves from how they just offended someone, shifting the blame from their actions to the environment they were raised in.
The thing is, we are not static, and we can change with some effort.
Products, not replicates
Yes, the environment we’re raised in largely influences how we interact with and view the world, but just because we’re products of our environment doesn’t mean we need to replicate it, especially the toxic aspects. We have the power and agency to challenge the twisted narratives we were raised with, both in ourselves and in others. We have the internet and countless people around us to help us learn and grow, and ultimately become more understanding and respectful people.
It’s perfectly fine to be proud of where you grew up and still be critical of it. If anything, this shows that you care about where you’re from to the point that you want to see it grow for the better. Likewise, we can be proud of how our environment shaped us but still be critical of the toxicity it implanted in us.
Growth as a responsibility
When someone points out a toxic or disrespectful behavior, it can help to think of it as them pointing out a potential area of growth/learning — a knowledge gap of sorts. This can be a subject you don’t know much about, have been raised with false ideas about, or something you might’ve never even considered to think about because you were never made aware of it.
I personally live by an ethic imparted onto me by an elder: once you’re made aware of an issue, it’s your responsibility to act on it in some way.
In this case, how this ethic translates is that once you’re made aware of a fallacy or backwards ideology you were raised with, it’s your responsibility to sit with that, question why you were raised to think that, and push yourself to change that thinking.
Additionally, it doesn’t stop with just you; the people you love might very well have those same knowledge gaps, and as someone who cares about them and as such should also wish for their growth, it’s your responsibility to help them face those knowledge gaps as well.
The thing I will acknowledge about the excuse “it’s just how I was raised” is that these countless biases and un-/mis-informed opinions we have are often fed to us for years upon years, and it would be foolish to think that they can completely be addressed immediately. I’m not at all saying changes in mindset happen overnight or are easy, but there’s a difference between acknowledging that growth takes time and completely writing off the need for growth altogether. One of the first steps to making this process easier is humility — learning to embrace the discomfort around knowing you will likely hurt some people, but that it is possible to grow over time with consistent effort.
A lot of conversations around changing behavior to avoid hurting others devolves into people claiming we’re ‘policing language’ or being ‘overly politically correct’. The thing is, it all comes down to respect; if someone points out that your behavior hurt them or could hurt others around you, it’s your responsibility to respect those around you by changing that behavior.
Even if someone was being ‘too sensitive’ (which is 99.99% of the time not the case), isn’t it still important to respect how that person feels? Maybe they’re dealing with trauma or pain that makes them hypersensitive to certain things? Personally, I’d rather focus on helping that person heal than potentially inflict even more pain on them.
The point is to be a better, more caring person, and part of that is understanding and embracing the people around you, what matters to them, what ails them, and how you can help them.