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Every Conversation is Simultaneously Exclusive and Inclusive
The duty of comedy is to correct men by amusing them.” - Moliere
I did something quite unexpected in Monday's PSA for Valentine's Day: I told a joke. (Gasp!)
Turns out, there were some people that didn't find the blatant heteronormativity and relation-norming to be at all funny because it was needlessly exclusive. It didn't seem to be like the rest of the conversation happening here.
That should have been the first tip-off that something was amiss. How incongruous it would seem for someone to write about taking steps to live King's dream only to publish such a post!
I don't often show my more naturally humorous and light-hearted side in my writing because it doesn't carry well if you don't know me and don't catch the non-verbal part of the joke. I tend to tell multilayer jokes that often rest upon sociological, psychological, economic, and philosophical commentary that's usually unstated but carried with tone and body language.
Monday's post was of this sort. Between the true lines of the "no, seriously, don't screw this up," there were also bridge points to a broader conversation about needs, wants, and communication.
Some of the backchannel email that I got from women was "wouldn't it just make sense for women to clearly communicate what they need? Why is it that the men should be expected to be mindreaders?"
Other women emailed "I appreciate the advice for the men, but why didn't you say anything about what women should do?"
Because that's precisely the unstated part of the Valentine's Day equation. When you see "the script" laid out so unglamorously, you start to see how the story doesn't make sense. There's also a much broader conversation about why there are certain things that modern men are shamed from vocalizing as needs and expectations that I'll save for another day lest I find myself in a very, very deep hole that no amount of digging will get me out of.
And quite a few people (mostly men) wrote to thank me for the reminder. Mission Goal #1: accomplished.
“Comedy has to be based on truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end.” - Sid Caesar
And yet ... (yes, I've been watching Elementary)
We're all stuck in this weird schizophrenic cultural soup together. Mass media pushes us one way, legacy norms inherited through socialization push another, and reactionary ideologies push us yet another. At hyperspace speeds. It's hard to keep track of ourselves, let alone our partners.
Valentine's Day done right provides that place in time that many people need to orient themselves to the people that matter to them. Valentine's Day done wrong is a miserable pressure-fest, much akin to Christmas. Aside from it being a multilayer joke and commentary, the reminder I sent spoke to a common experience of what happens for many, many people - including myself as a hetero male.
And it didn't include many alternative perspectives. Let's talk about inclusion and exclusion for a bit.
The Four Faces of Inclusion and Exclusion
Inclusion and exclusion can both be done accidentally and intentionally. I intentionally exclude you when I purposefully and actively exclude you from something; I accidentally exclude you when I create barriers for you indirectly. I intentionally include you when I purposefully and actively include you; I accidentally include you when I allow you to join in as a secondary thought.
Rather than thinking of these as discrete and clear-cut domains, it's more accurate to see them on a spectrum. I can be more or less intentionally or accidentally inclusive, just as I can be more or less intentionally or accidentally exclusive. In the simple world of charged ideologies, these complexities are often abstracted away - it's easier to make people clearly right or wrong with a simple model rather than seeing that people are often doing the best they can to meet competing demands. It only took me a few years of metaethical studies to appreciate how deep the need for simple, determinative normative theories was, and a few more years yet to embrace the more complex theories that let the world show up in all of its confusing and contradictory ways.
Obviously, viewing inclusion and exclusion from the lenses of intention and accident places a lot of weight on people's intention and character. This is similar to what we do with concepts like 'manslaughter' and 'homicide'; in those cases, we care about both the result and the intention that created the result. If I run over someone in my car because a semi catapulted my vehicle into the person, it would be tragic, but you'd likely still be my friend. If I run over someone in my car because I wanted to experience how it felt to kill another person by car, I'd imagine you'd likely keep yourself and your loved ones away from me.
Okay, enough philosophical setup.
Every conversation is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. (Click here to tweet this - thanks for intentionally including others in the conversation.)
I'm intentionally including you in this conversation and I'm accidentally excluding people who don't have internet access or don't read English. Comedy is often even more exclusive and inclusive, largely due to context sensitivity.
Monday's post intentionally included a lot of people. That's what made it so funny and rich for those people.
It also accidentally excluded a lot of people.
Perhaps what triggered those not included in the joke was that it could have still been funny AND included them, had I put in the effort to do so. I actually think it would've lost its punch, as it would've removed the context and commentary that made it humorous, including the fact that it was so outside of what you'd expect me to say.
We Can't Always Be Inclusive
As I mentioned above, everything we do includes or excludes different people. It's logically impossible, and since "ought implies can," there's no moral argument to be made that we should always be inclusive.
There is a point to be made that we should strive to be intentionally inclusive of people. I also think we should try to avoid accidental inclusion.
My wife and her girlfriends meet about once a week. Despite the fact that they're also my friends independent of Angela AND I'm also friends with their partners, their male partners and I aren't invited. Their partners and I either vacate our houses or hide out in our offices and caves to give them their space.
A few of my male friends and I often go hiking together. We generally don't invite our partners and it's more or less "guy time" unless we intentionally include other people, in which case it's just a walk and talk. Both are great experiences AND they're importantly different experiences.
It's rather common for women, queer, and minorities to have their own groups that are intentionally exclusive of other people so that they can intentionally have safe, constructive conversations with each other about their own unique experiences. (Even using the word 'queer' in this manner is doubly intentionally and doubly dangerous: people who trust that I'm not using it in the legacy cultural way will see themselves included, whereas people who question my character or worldview may be alarmed. Note that using the word would be utterly unproblematic if I was gay. Context is so important in communication.)
Valentine's Day itself is an event that's based on intentional inclusion and intentional exclusion.
Brands and communities are intentionally inclusive and intentionally exclusive. To say "this is who we are" and "this is what we talk about" includes people who "fit" and share your story and excludes people who don't.
My use of semi-colons, forays into philosophy, frequent use military analogies, and longer-than-bite size writing style excludes people from the conversation. It apparently would be far more inclusive if I had a higher kitten-to-word ratio.
If we don't actively create the space for deeper levels of communication, we miss out on the very connections with other people that we so dearly crave. Doing so often requires intentional inclusion AND intentional exclusion.
Accidental inclusion, therefore, may disrupt the very things we most need. I don't know or care what Angela and her girlfriends discuss in their conversations and I don't need to be included, especially since I know that my inclusion in their group would alter the experience they need.
By writing the post the way I did, there are men who see that I get them and their experience because I've had that experience, and there are women who see that I get their experience both of their male partners and that I see them, too. I'm still learning from my queer and non-traditional friends how their relationship patterns compare to ones that are more familiar to me - I can't write from their experience and, given the sensitivity of the subject, I'm very careful about the ways I'll write about their experience. (I now have in mind that I'll just ask one of them to talk about this on The Creative Giant Show.)
You Weren't Addressed, But I Still See You
And you thought I was just going to give a big philosophical argument that served as a red herring and didn't actually address the fact that you didn't feel seen, didn't you?
The broader conversation here at Productive Flourishing is intentionally inclusive. Creative Giants come in all shapes and sizes; we can be (loud and proud) freaks and weirdos as much as we can be people who don't self-identify that way. That's probably what surprised you about Monday's post - it superficially looked like the same patriarchial and heteronormative drivel that drives many of us crazy.
“The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays that part.” - Miguel de Cervantes
You might still find it unfunny and think that there were many better ways to advance the conversation. I did not mean to offend or alienate you and recognize that I still may have done so. Comedy is risky for those very reasons, and I'm sorry to have upset you, even if I did so unintentionally.
I applaud your speaking up and speaking out, as well. It's needed. Keep in mind that character attacks and shaming is rarely the most effective way to advance a moral argument.
Some people mentioned that they would have liked to seen a more thoughtful discussion on communicating needs and expectations. If you are one of those people, I submit for your reading pleasure:
Every post here won't be for every Creative Giant every time. For instance, you might find project planning easy and wonder what all the fuss is about. Maybe you know bookkeeping in and out and don't find my explanations of margins useful or relevant to you. Maybe you've got self-care dialed in and find my repeated nudges to be annoying.
You may not have been directly addressed in Monday's post, but, I assure you, I see you.
In other words, can we still be friends? :)