Tone Policing and Mutuality

Tone Policing and Mutuality

This was originally published on April 15th, 2021

The problem to me with the framework of tone policing is that it doesn’t hold space for the dynamic complexities of human interaction.

Defensiveness in the face of a challenge is very normal.

It is also true that many of us lack skills in confronting one another in ways that balance rootedness in one’s truth with kindness and openness to discussion.

It seems as if many of us go into encounters with the belief that we should simply be listened to- in fact this has become a sort of righteous, albeit misguided expectation of much of social justice discourse.

But learning and connection are far more complex than this.

Initial defensiveness, bristling, and even at times power struggle can and should be expected.

The best, most productive exchanges are entered into with respect for the other person’s humanity, and are not entered into with the intention to change the other.

The best, most productive exchanges are entered into with a good grasp on oneself, one’s positions, and one’s triggers and vulnerabilities, and knowledge of the places where you are willing to be flexible and where you are not.

The framework of tone policing is not one of mutual responsibility, instead it is a framework with lopsided expectations of emotional regulation.

Asking people to enter into such lopsided dynamics is not only completely ignorant of healthy, dynamic relationships (and thus why no matter how much people point accusations of tone policing of others, it doesn’t actually change anything about the reality of human interaction), it can also lead to dynamics of inauthenticity- where a person’s thoughts and questions are suppressed in favor of fawning or avoidance.

Grappling is the grounds where learning happens.

Tone Policing and Mutuality

The problem to me with the framework of tone policing is that it doesn’t hold space for the dynamic complexities of human interaction.

Defensiveness in the face of a challenge is very normal.

It is also true that many of us lack skills in confronting one another in ways that balance rootedness in one’s truth with kindness and openness to discussion.

It seems as if many of us go into encounters with the belief that we should simply be listened to- in fact this has become a sort of righteous, albeit misguided expectation of much of social justice discourse.

But learning and connection are far more complex than this.

Initial defensiveness, bristling, and even at times power struggle can and should be expected.

The best, most productive exchanges are entered into with respect for the other person’s humanity, and are not entered into with the intention to change the other.

The best, most productive exchanges are entered into with a good grasp on oneself, one’s positions, and one’s triggers and vulnerabilities, and knowledge of the places where you are willing to be flexible and where you are not.

The framework of tone policing is not one of mutual responsibility, instead it is a framework with lopsided expectations of emotional regulation.

Asking people to enter into such lopsided dynamics is not only completely ignorant of healthy, dynamic relationships (and thus why no matter how much people point accusations of tone policing of others, it doesn’t actually change anything about the reality of human interaction), it can also lead to dynamics of inauthenticity- where a person’s thoughts and questions are suppressed in favor of fawning or avoidance.

Grappling is the grounds where learning happens.

Developing the resilience necessary to grapple and get messy in difficult conversations and hold respectful space for disagreement and resistance can help us create healthy and stable communities capable of great transformation.

Developing the resilience necessary to grapple and get messy in difficult conversations and hold respectful space for disagreement and resistance can help us create healthy and stable communities capable of great transformation.

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