Right now, I’m in the doghouse for interrupting my wife. Out of a speaking habit I acquired growing up*, I started talking over my wife while we were having a discussion over something I saw on Facebook. She took it as yet another example of my disrespecting her opinion (as she had asked me not to do it in the past), and although I’ve apologized, she is still upset with me. From my site, there was no disrespect intended, but that doesn’t mean that cannot see how the behavior was interpreted and how it hurt her.
Thinking about the incident this morning, I realized that it is a lot like our problems with hidden privilege in this world. People do things out of habit — out of custom — without thinking. But can be reacting to feminine hygene items left on a counter , to assuming a particular economic advantage, to making assumptions based on gender or color, to interrupting and devaluing comments, to … . Often the person in the habit does not consciously intend to disrespect or take advantage of privilege or power, but that doesn’t prevent it any less from harming the other party. Habit does not make something right, does not excuse a behavior. Habit is often something that needs to be broken, but perhaps is the hardest thing to break.
I intend to break my habit of interrupting, for I do not intend or mean to disrespect my wife. It will be hard, and I need those who interact with me to chide or remind me when I fall back into that habit. A way of behavior acquired over many years does not mean it is proper.
Similarly, we should all think whether we have habits that disrespect other people and potentially take advantage of privilege. Do we automatically assume everyone was raised with the same advantages we had? Do we have behaviors that are, in the words of Avenue Q, just a little bit racist? Do we tell ethnic jokes or imply ethnic stereotypes without thinking?
I am going to make a conscious effort to break my habit. Are you going to join me (and help me), in my fight — either at a personal level, or even in larger society?
[*: A long time ago, a friend commented on the correspondence between speaking styles and network protocols. He noted that everyone’s household grows up with a particular protocol: jump in anytime, wait for any pause, wait for a significant pause. When you get into a discussion with someone from a different protocol, the behavior can be seen as interrupting, to disrespectful, to dominating. There’s not a conscious intent to create that feeling, mind you, but it comes across just the same.]