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Language Log

Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 - 8:19 a.m.

There was a discussion in some group or another around this quote (from a presentation on children and sensory processing issues, but not the topic of the group): “When we behave in expected ways, peers feel good about being around us. We are perceived as predictable and safe.”

So this seems true on a very basic level. The discussion that followed has to do with how bad people are at distinguishing between non-normative behaviors that actually do convert some information about safety, and those that really are just non-normative but harmless.

1. I saw a repost of someone’s tweet depicting a protestor in Portland riding around a little pink children’s Jeep and captioning it with something earnest about antifa. “Antifa rioter drives pink toy truck around in downtown Portland last night.”

2. That guy in our neighborhood who periodically yells really angry things. I don’t think he’s actually yelling at anyone, I think he’s having psychotic episodes. They sound very scary and it’s definitely non-normative, but is yelling at odd times actually harmful? Annoying, yes, but not harmful.

3. That quote upset a lot of autistic people in the thread, because I think we all recognize it’s what’s behind the pressure to learn to mask, ABA therapy, etc.

Anyway there’s a lot of food for thought in applying this observation to different contexts. Relationships, mental health, political, almost anything really. And that skill of discerning when is there harm? Who is being the dick, here? It all comes down to what can be some very nuanced, split-second analyses. But the habit of assuming that, as the one who is having one’s sense of safety threatened, you’re automatically in the right, that needs to be questioned. Power comes into it I think.

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