I have a problem. I find myself going the extra mile and making excuses for people, to make sense of their actions. And while I want to understand where others are coming from, I also deeply want to be understood. To be frank, it has all served me horribly. To be understood, I have had to climb up into laps and spoon-feed my point of view into mouths before barely getting the unrewarding acknowledgement (and dare I say validation?) I sought. Meanwhile, I would contort my brain every which way to find a sliver of a reason to understand others and give them the benefit of the doubt even without their asking. It was bloody gruesome.
I believe such devil’s advocacy is symptomatic of power imbalances where people are taught/unable to question authority; which leads to acceptance of flagrant abuse of power. When you don’t hold people accountable, your brain NEEDs to find a way to make sense of what it knows to be wrong. Done over and over again, we come to strengthen, and eventually default to those neural pathways instead of rejecting them. A good example is the reaction to Buhari’s post-protest speech. I have seen countless posts twisting themselves into pretzels trying to rationalize why he didn’t say what he did or didn’t say, to make sense of the senseless. This form of gaslighting is not at all innocuous as it serves to perpetuate the very imbalance that created it.
As usual, women deal with this both at the macro and micro level. The typical butts of power, women have become proficient at playing devil’s advocate on behalf of everyone else. Many end up putting themselves in harms way to give others benefit of the doubt, even in-spite of others’ clear bad/dangerous behavior at work, in the streets and even in the home. Those nefarious neural pathways start building early when we are taught to look beyond the clear action of the person bullying us, and consider that maybe…just maybe “he pulled your hair because he actually likes you”. Meanwhile, people on the dominant end of the power balance (typically men), do not bother to understand or be understood, and accept the finality of their own thoughts. For instance, men are often very clear that women are either mean or nice, prudes or vixens, and wife material or nags.
It’s been a painful process but I have come to realize that being understood on a day to day is simply not that important. And understanding others…well they better convince me the first time. I wish I learned this early so I would have been better at distinguishing what was worth my mental energy and what wasn’t. To my younger self I would say “That XYZ person that made you feel bad about ABC is not having a bad day. They are douchebags. Rid yourself of them quick.”