Rethink that Comment About Ferguson-Part 2: 10 tips on How to Validate Others

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about recognizing the impact of our comments about Ferguson, MO. While most of the feedback I received was positive and encouraging, some seemed to miss my point.

The point of the original post was not to debate facts, put anyone down, place blame, or call anyone racist. It was a call to THINK about what others might FEEL when they read your remarks. It was about VALIDATING to the experience of the potential readers of the comments, not shaming the writers of the comments. It was about LISTENING to people’s perspectives who might differ from yours.

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As a relational therapist I talk about validation frequently. It is an important relationship skill for used in families, workplaces and especially when talking about controversial topics like what is going on in Ferguson. It occurred to me that I asked people to validate  others without actually explaining how to do it.

Sometimes looking at “What not to do” can be a good way of learning “what to do” when it comes to validation. John Doe submitted the following invalidating comment. Warning: while it’s a great example for learning about validation, it may be offensive:

beccjoy, you have a good heart, but and it’s a big but, the reality is you are part of the problem. You are making excuses for behavior that is not acceptable. It must stink to be pulled over for being black. Hassled for walking down the street. But you know what? Many,  many blacks have suffered that indignity went to school, got a good job, and bought the house next door. Oh yea the guys in Fergusun would call them Uncle Tom’s .The problem is in the black community. Only they can fix it. X% of population. Y% of children born out of wedlock. Abortion % way above any other. Crime same. If you say these things you’re shot down. Until the black community faces their own problems this will keep going on. By you and others making excuses, talking about “slavery” (150 yrs ago) It will never fix. The victim mentality only perpetuates. White privilege is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard. That’s just more white guilt from self loathing whites. The worse part is the rest of America is fed up. I’ve been blogging 5 yrs and I have my finger on the pulse, and I’ve never seen the comments all over be so negative and nasty. You reap what you sow. Good luck, I hope you find an answer. I really do.

-John Doe

I have identified 10 rules to keep in mind if you want to have productive conversations.

The Rules of Validation

  1. Acknowledge the parts of what the other person is saying that you agree with or find helpful. Don’t get caught up in a small detail that you disagree with while ignoring the greater point.
  2. Replace the word “but” with “and.” The word “but” negates the positive thing you just said. An example from family therapy I hear often is “I love you but…” which usually doesn’t end in the person feeling loved. Try the word “and” instead.
  3. Avoid accusations and name calling. These things often lead to defensiveness and defensiveness kills conversations and often relationships.
  4. Stay on topic. If you are responding to someone, respond to the actual content of what they said or wrote without bringing up other related topics.
  5. Avoid an argumentative tone. Have you ever been in an argument with a person you actually agree with? An argumentative tone can create unnecessary fights.
  6. Speak for yourself. An easy way to do this is to start your sentence with the word “I” rather than “you” or “they.”
  7. Don’t belittle others, or their causes, even if you don’t care about them or the cause.
  8. Don’t pass the buck. It is easy to identify what other people should do or change, although it isn’t usually effective. Take ownership and responsibility for what is in your control to change.
  9. Be specific about encouragement. If you have something nice to say, it is more likely to believed and taken to heart if you are specific.
  10. Validate everyone. People and their stories deserve to be heard, valued, acknowledged, and believed. It doesn’t matter if you think they are bad, wrong, lesser, whiny or anything else. They deserve to be validated no matter what.

Below I apply these rules to Mr. Doe’s comment, line by line:

beccjoy, you have a good heart,     Thanks (rule 1)

but and it’s a big but,     The word “but” negates the earlier positive comment  (rule 2).

the reality is you are part of the problem.     Accusations, true or not, tend to put people on the defensive. Defensiveness makes people less likely to listen to your message (rule 3).

You are making excuses for behavior that is not acceptable.     Try to keep the content focused on what the other person actually said. This comment was a reply to my original post, which didn’t mention unacceptable behaviors, nor give excuses for them (rule 4).

It must stink to be pulled over for being black. Hassled for walking down the street. But     again, the word “but” negates an attempt to be empathetic about these experiences (rule 2).

you know what? Many,  many blacks have suffered that indignity went to school, got a good job, and bought the house next door.     I’m glad he noticed that multitudes of people have overcome unfathomable oppression (rule 1) and (rule 2) I don’t think the argumentative tone is necessary (rule 5).

Oh yea the guys in Fergusun would call them Uncle Tom’s.     The point of my post was making sure our comments validate others and are considerate of how comments might be perceived. This remark does neither, and is a little off topic. If Mr. Doe lives in Ferguson, or is friends with a lot of the guys there, then, this comment would make more sense (rules 4 & 6).

The problem is in the black community. Only they can fix it.     If everyone points to someone else as the problem, rather than taking ownership for our part, change will not occur. A more helpful response would be to model taking personal responsibility and asking for others to follow suit (rules 3 & 8).

X% of population. Y% of children born out of wedlock. Abortion % way above any other. Crime same. (I have taken the numbers out and replaced them with X and Y because I question their accuracy and relevancy).     My original post, said nothing about these statistics. I said, “Let’s listen and respond better” and it seems your reply is, “No, we shouldn’t listen to them because of their bad behavior.” A validating response would not try to build a case against a people group. They are people who deserve to be heard and valued no matter what (rules 4 & 10). 

If you say these things you’re shot down.     Perhaps metaphorically, but literally, I don’t t think you have to worry about that. Following rule #3 might lead to more productive conversations and less feeling “shot down.”

Until the black community faces their own prms this will keep going on.     A validating response does not offer simple solutions to complex problems for other people to fix (rules 7 & 8).

By you and others making excuses, talking about “slavery” (150 yrs ago) It will never fix.     A validating response would not put the word slavery in quotation marks, as if it didn’t really exist, and it would stay on point. I made no mention of slavery in my original post (rules 3, 4, 7 & 8)

The victim mentality only perpetuates.     Someone who is trying to validate another human being’s perspectives notices a difference between “playing a victim” and being a victim (rules 3 & 7).

White privilege is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard.     A validating response doesn’t belittle something that is a big deal to others (rule 7).

That’s just more white guilt from self loathing whites.     Empathizing, taking ownership, listening, and validating other people’s stories is not the same as self-loathing. Using negative labels like “self-loathing whites” may make some people feel defensive (rule 3).

The worse part is the rest of America is fed up.     Validators speak on their own behalf. It’s okay to feel fed up, but “the rest of America” can express their own feelings (rule 6).

I’ve been blogging 5 yrs and I have my finger on the pulse, and I’ve never seen the comments all over be so negative and nasty. You reap what you sow (no comment).

Good luck, I hope you find an answer. I really do     Validating responses might include well wishes like this, but being specific is more powerful. Since I didn’t pose a question, I’m not sure what he is hoping for me (rules 4 & 9).

-John Doe

It is possible to validate someone without agreeing with them or condoning their behavior. Here’s my example:

To John Doe (and others who have made similar comments),

While your comment offends and distresses me, I want to acknowledge that you are an important person with a valid perspective. I’m sure that if I knew more about your experiences, personality and relationships, I would have a greater understanding for why you think the way you do. You seem to be a person who likes to identify and solve problems and that is admirable. Thanks for having the boldness to speak up, even though we disagree with each other. I realize and respect that you might not have known what I meant by “validating others” so you can’t be blamed for breaking all of the rules. Now that you know, I hope you will realize the great power your words have to help or harm others. I regret that you are missing out on the many strengths the black community has to offer.

Beccyjoy

Your voice is needed in this conversation. Validating comments are welcome below.

Note: If I receive comments below that are invalidating to me, I will publish them, but if they are invalidating to people of color, I’m not going to allow them here.

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13 thoughts on “Rethink that Comment About Ferguson-Part 2: 10 tips on How to Validate Others

  1. Would you be interested to hear about the experiences of non-black business owners who work in majority black areas? Will you be open to hear what they have to deal with everyday?

  2. @beccyjoy I’ve read many of the comments and would like to add my two cents. You say that you have so much to learn about how you should think about these tragedies and that you’re choosing to listen rather than express your opinion. If that is true and you say it’s important to listen, I assume you mean it’s not only important to listen to those posting on this thread, but that it’s important to listen to all those who have information on the details of what happened that particular day, which includes all the eye witnesses statements, the evidence which was collected at the scene, any video surveillance, including dash cam video or body cam video, the reports of the three medical examiners, the report of the hospital emergency room which treated the officer, the statement of the officer, and any other evidence which has been discovered. Did I misunderstand you. Did you mean listen to everything or just some things? Even a juror seated in a trial is told by the judge not to make any decision as to the guilt or innocence of the accused until they have listened to all the evidence and are in the deliberation room. By saying what you did, it appears you have already decided guilt and don’t wish listen to anything else even if it could shed more light on what happened. You say some people prefer to believe the facts have been misinterpreted, yet you’re unwilling to listen to all the facts before deciding guilt.

    I hadn’t read your “about” before making these comments and it left me with a nagging question,. As a therapist, you obviously know the importance of listening to the facts as there are always two sides to an argument, both believing they have valid points. So why is it you seem to be willing to rush to judgment before waiting for all the facts to be presented. You already believe it was racially motivated and that the officer shot him for no reason. Don’t you see that by not being willing to listen to all the facts in this case and declaring the officer guilty of murdering Michael because he was black, that you are doing the exact same thing as those who are declaring Michael’s guilt before they have had a chance to listen to all the facts.

    1. Thanks for adding your thoughts here Northernlights.

      It is a misunderstanding that therapists are supposed to go on fact finding missions to determine what happened or who is at fault. That is more the job of an attorney or judge as I understand it.

      If someone says they’re hurting, as a therapist I don’t question if they are really hurting, or if they deserve to be hurting, or who is to blame for their pain.

      I never said that waiting for facts or believing certain pieces of evidence was bad. I did say that people in Ferguson are hurting and our words to and about them matter.

      To answer your question about if I only care to listen to one side of this argument- I’ve already heard, time and again, the perspective that you are promoting and I’m pretty sure that it is a well known perspective. That is why I am hoping to learn from people who are truly affected by this issue, because that is something I know less about.

  3. First, let me say you are awesome for your original comment. I love the way you think. It is unbiased and thoughtful. It is sad some people are not as insightful as are you. I am the person described in the excerpt below. I am African-American, hold a Master’s Degree and own my own home (the largest on my entire street). Most of my family members are college educated and own their homes too. The person who wrote this knows nothing of our experiences or that of others who were not so fortunate. That is why I give back. I am inclined to believe the author of this response may him/herself have something about which to be guilty. Giving back to others, who are less fortunate, regardless of the color of their skin is always a noble act. My daily prayers include the people who wrote the comment.

    Sincerely,

    Another Productive American Citizen

    you know what? Many, many blacks have suffered that indignity went to school, got a good job, and bought the house next door. I’m glad he noticed that multitudes of people have overcome unfathomable oppression (rule 1) and (rule 2) I don’t think the argumentative tone is necessary (rule 5).

  4. Addendum. Numerically there are more white people on public assistance than other groups. Percentages don’t matter as much as raw numbers do when we are talking about national budgets. I have not been in slavery, however my life is seriously affected on a daily basis by racism in ways a white citizen’s would not. I am hopeful you will take and keep a productive attitude towards your fellow countrymen. If you like, I can suggest several pieces of literature that will assist in making you more informed. May God Continue to Bless You, Another Productive American Citizen

  5. To add a little bit more. I have a family member (college educated of course) who is a journalist and flew to Ferguson with her camera crew. It is good to have a little first hand knowledge available to you rather rush to use one’s own emotional response. Another Productive American Citizen

    1. I’m so grateful that you shared a bit of your own experience here.

      I believe that you know what you are talking about when you say “my life is seriously affected on a daily basis by racism in ways a white citizen’s would not” and I am anxiously waiting and hoping for a change.

      Thanks for giving back. I’m blessed by your willingness to speak out.

  6. Hi Beccyjoy.

    Feelings and emotions are running high. I have left comments on a few BLOG sites and one in particular is a very volatile place, (The Economist BLOG which is referred to in my BLOG).
    I take your stance that everyone’s opinion is valid and when I see aggressive responses they are always never answering or referring my actual comments. They are aggressive, defensive, and offensive and laced with high emotions. When I calmly respond asking them to validate selected areas of their comments I tend to never get a reply. I draw the conclusion that they are just venting.
    In many ways I do not have any feelings about such responses after stepping back apart from having an over whelming desire to help the individual get to the actual root of his comments or issues so that a real discussion could ensue where both parties could learn from each other.
    With regards again to recent events I one of the more constructive comments I have heard is that those in power should strive to promote positive descrimination when it comes to employing law enforcement officers. Proportional representation is needed in the forces. This may be a long term plan as for a while in the UK ethnic minorities shied away from the police because of the institutional racism (Stephen Lawrence case) and the fact that it was seen to be un-cool.

    Trigger Happy
    Also better training for armed police officers as I feel in many of these recent events procedures could have been different (the Tamir Rice situation). How often do police officers train using their weapons a year? Training that includes high pressure situations?
    I have had some interesting comments from a NRA instructor that might surprise you all.
    I have two posts on this subject

    http://okay2disagree.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/armed-police-trigger-happy.html

    http://okay2disagree.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/racism-or-oversensitivity.html

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