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.
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.
I have identified 10 rules to keep in mind if you want to have productive conversations.
The Rules of Validation
- 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.
- 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.
- Avoid accusations and name calling. These things often lead to defensiveness and defensiveness kills conversations and often relationships.
- 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.
- 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.
- Speak for yourself. An easy way to do this is to start your sentence with the word “I” rather than “you” or “they.”
- Don’t belittle others, or their causes, even if you don’t care about them or the cause.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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.
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.