A while back I was standing in a café with a friend, waiting to be served. The couple in front of us were challenging (politely) the cashier about the cost of a bread roll. They were saying that, previously, the roll included the price of butter; today the cashier was telling them it didn’t. This meant the couple decided to only have one bread roll and butter between them, instead of two, and a bowl of chips (the other cheapest thing on the menu).
My friend turned to me and said something like “honestly, who argues over the price of a roll and butter?”. I replied, “this might be their weekly/monthly “treat”, that’s probably all they can afford”. He looked mortified and said he hadn’t thought of that.
To this day, he remembers that moment: he tells me he realised how judgemental he had been, not just then but many times before. How he had lived in a “bubble” where he assumed that everyone had enough money to buy a bread roll with butter, and how he hadn’t considered that maybe this was a special treat, their “date night”, and it was all they could afford.
This is why I talk about things a lot of people don’t want to talk or know about: to encourage people to have those “aha” moments, where they suspend judgement for a while and consider all sides of the coin.
It’s why when people say to me that “people choose to be homeless”, I suggest to the person saying that, that they’re only one decision away from being homeless themselves. It’s why when people say that “women must be stupid if they choose to stay with a violent partner”, I tell them that their violent partner has probably threatened to drown their children if she leaves. Or there was that time a woman told me – quite confidently – that all people who use Food Banks are alcoholics or on drugs, and I told her about a close friend of mine (who was neither misusing drugs or alcohol) who had to use one last year, because she couldn’t afford to eat and heat her home at the same time.
It’s why when people say that “women must be stupid if they choose to stay with a violent partner”, I tell them that their violent partner has probably threatened to drown their children if she leaves.
And I’m not alone. I love this TED talk by Toni Mac where she talks about sex work.
Sex work is a complicated subject. A person might have a number of reasons for becoming a sex worker. The Guardian explains in this report how one in ten 15 year olds in Kenya exchange sex for money to buy sanitary towels.
Another reason could include escaping domestic abuse. That doesn’t mean every woman or man leaving an emotionally or physically abusive home becomes a sex worker, just that we shouldn’t judge them if that’s the path they then find themselves travelling. In this video, Toni talks about the ways in which different countries approach the subject of sex work and how we should consider what women and men actually want, before deciding what they need. She uses education to encourage people to suspend judgement about what they think they know and instead spend time with the people who can tell us what it’s really like.
Being “outspoken” (if that’s what I am) can make me unpopular: I’ve been called sensitive because I want to dig deep about things that matter. I get called boring because I avoid superficial conversations which involve gossip about Kim Kardashian’s butt (no offence, Kim) – I avoid them because, well, there’s work to be done. I genuinely take no pleasure in watching people squirm with embarrassment when they realise that what they’ve said is deeply judgemental and ill-informed. I’m not trying to be righteous, or powerful, or – ironically – judgemental.
I am an educator, an advocate and, I hope, a voice for the very people being judged. As a therapist, part of my job is to explore – safely and unconditionally – the topics which make people uncomfortable, when they make the choice to dig that deep. In the meantime, I will keep having the difficult conversations as a voice on their behalf and putting the elephant in the room.
I get called boring because I avoid superficial conversations which involve gossip about Kim Kardashian’s butt (no offence, Kim) – I avoid them because, well, there’s work to be done.
If you know someone affected by Domestic Abuse, you may wish to take a look at the Refuge website.
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Picture via Leadership Hospitality