Monday, May 20, 2013

Understanding understanding

This past weekend, I found myself in a heated debate on Facebook with a friend of a friend. She argued that all women should own a handgun for protection, especially if they're slight like she is. She also said that she had no training in self-defense, though she was thinking about looking into it. She implied as well that she's never owned a gun, but didn't think she'd need a lot of training to shoot any guy who approaches her when she's afraid.

I countered that not only is a handgun far more likely to be ineffective or used against the owner in a defensive situation, but that it takes lots of sustained training and discretion to actually use one in a crisis situation — and that it's not something to take lightly. Furthermore, I suggested that if she's so serious about self-defense, she should become well-rounded in physical techniques and not presume that a gun is a cure-all protectant. And that awareness of one's environment and avoiding high-risk situations are smart strategies.

The debate eventually crumbled to the point where she said that I could never understand her plight because I'm not a woman. She accused me of siding with the "bad guys" (which in this conversation meant rapists) and not-so-politely demanded that I shut up.  

"You don't understand." 

I've had this conversation before. I'm sick of having it.

Ultimately, the only experiences we can know 100 percent are those that happen to ourselves. But since time began, that hasn't stopped us from trying to relate to one another. Some people don't even try. Others do try and get rebuffed by those they're trying to understand.

For my part, I get that I cannot fully understand the unique trials faced by women, minorities and the disabled because, as a healthy white male, I don't suffer those institutional disadvantages. But I do try to be aware of them, in an attempt to understand societal wrongs and to not be part of the problem. I'm equally not interested in overdoing it, which is where I go wrong sometimes in peoples' eyes.

For one thing, I see men and women as equals. And because I don't put up with a man saying, "You couldn't possibly understand, little lady," I also have no tolerance for, "You can't understand because you're a man."

That's not to say that "you don't understand" has no purpose. But I think if someone is making an earnest attempt to understand something, they shouldn't be shot down with an abstract, exclusivist concept. Save the condemnation for those with dismissive attitudes.

That's not me, no matter how much some want it to be.

No comments: