Thursday, 24 May 2018

Stages of Awareness

One of my favourite things about researching a book is getting to walk a mile in all sorts of shoes.  Sometimes those shoes take me to exciting places, like sleight of hand training or burlesque dancing.  And sometimes they take me to places I should have known existed, but didn't.  In the last three years, I've learned a lot about micro-aggressions and how relentless they can be.  It got me thinking about how many parallel worlds are out there, and I'm not talking about Star Trek multiple realities, but rather the worlds we all live in.  The world that I experience as a cishet white woman is different from the worlds that some of my friends live in.  I've been learning to see the worlds that they see and there are some amazing things in those worlds and there are some scary things, too.

That was why I decided to structure Judgment as a journey of awareness and use the stages of awareness to to define the acts of the story.  There's no official consensus on the stages but these are the ones I used.

Or not.  Depending on your point of view.
Denial: There's a temptation to vilify people who are in this stage, the ones who insist that the problem is blown out of proportion or that it can't possibly be as bad as people say.  The ones who think there must be innocent explanations and who urge those harmed to be understanding and not so sensitive.  And there's reason to be cautious, because a lot of trolls hide in the ranks of the deniers and they use fake ignorance as an attack technique to wear down their targets.

However, I also think there's a lot of wishfulness behind the denial stage.  I can understand the impulse to believe that the world is a better place than it is.  That everything can be solved with an explanation and nothing is ever more harmful than a misunderstanding.  It's the world most of us would like to live in.  But it isn't the real world and hiding in denial doesn't fix the problems that need to be solved.

Knowledge: Education is the opposite of denial.  Once a person acknowledges that the issues are real, then there's no choice but to begin to learn about them.  It takes time to educate oneself and it takes a critical mind to sort through the conflicting reports and the nuanced ways of seeing the world.

I'm very careful not to describe this stage as finding the truth.  Because it's not as simple as sorting through truth and lies.  There are multiple perspectives and each of them holds an aspect of the truth.  Some people will say that a situation isn't ideal, but not a big deal.  Others will be drastically hurt by the same situation.  Both are true and valid reactions.

Self-Awareness: As a person becomes aware of what's going on in the world around them, they also become aware of how their own actions may have impacted others.  A word choice, a joke that relies on harmful assumptions, inadvertent excluding of entire groups.  

This is a very hard stage to go through.  If a person is truly dedicated to doing better, the process of awareness can feel like it's eroding their self-confidence.  It can feel like the whole world is getting turned around and nothing is certain any more.  People don't deal well with uncertainty and it can be tempting to clamp down on convenient excuses rather than continuing.

Negotiation: As a person starts to navigate through the new landmarks, they often want to help others come to the same understanding that they've struggled through.  There's a get-it-done rush to "fix" the problem by educating others.  And there are a lot of people who will respond to education.

But there are also a lot of people who aren't interested in education or who don't care about harm that is being done to others.  This is where a lot of people burn out, feeling as if they are being endlessly drained in their efforts to educate.

Anger: There are certain situations where we should be angry.  Anger is our mind's way to signal that something is wrong.  Realizing that some people either don't care or are okay with deliberately harming others is a situation that should make us angry.  

Action: Once there's no longer a veil of denial to hide behind, and a person is aware that progress is not inevitable, then it's time for action beyond education.  Good intentions aren't enough to protect the vulnerable.  That's why we need laws, enforcement and accountability.

Like the stages of grieving, not everyone goes through every stage and certainly not in the same order.  But I've found that thinking about awareness this way has helped me to be more patient and less prone to burn out.  It gives me more hope that even though someone doesn't understand now, it doesn't mean they won't understand later.  And maybe then someday we can get the kind of world that we've always hoped for and that I think we deserve: one where a misunderstanding really is as bad as it gets.

Judgment is now available in ebook and print.  And if you'd new to the lalassu, give book one: Revelations a try for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

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