‘Splain ‘Splaining

“In a world obsessed with status, let our compassion and empathy define us.”(Henry Johnson Jr.)

All the SplainsMansplaining. Whitesplaining. StraightsplainingThinsplaining.

‘Splaining ‘splaining ‘splaining. Our culture appears to be obsessed with positional jousting. We are drowning in hierarchical thinking that can treat social exchanges, (whether in person or, worse, online,) as opportunities to posture ourselves as experts in other people’s business.

We Try Most of us try to be decent humans and not engage in this behavior. But let me ask you candidly: Have you ever found yourself making assumptions about the size of someone else’s body? Have you ever assumed that a very thin person was suffering from an eating disorder? Have you assumed that a person with well-defined muscles is healthy? Have you thought negatively about someone with a larger sized body or assumed that the person needs to or even wants to lose weight? Have you ever registered an opinion on someone else’s way of eating, assuming you know what would be healthier for them?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, two things are true: 1. You sit in the company of most Americans, (including me,)

and, 2. You, (also like me,) have internalized fat phobia, and are guilty of “thinsplaining” at some level. In fact, this version of ‘splaining is so common and so complicated that I’m going to give it its own blog next week. My purpose in bringing it up is not to shame you, (as you might recall, I firmly believe in separating our personhood from our behavior,) but rather, to offer a prevalent example of ‘splaining to better understand the psychology that motivates it.

Why We ‘Splain Most of us have difficulty seeing the fragile ego that belies ‘splaining of all kinds. It’s just so easy to think, “Who do you think you are, to make yourself the central reference point of all things?” What’s harder to recognize is the fear and insecurity that underlies this kind of posturing.

Why do we have opinions about other people’s lives, when we couldn’t possibly have enough information to know what they “should” do, or worse, how they “should” feel? Why do our minds quickly oversimplify other people’s situations - How they “should” eat, how they “should” exercise, how they “should” spend their money, how they “should” raise their children, how they “should” train their pet, what someone else “should” do in relationships, how they “should” view this or that politician?

We “should” on people, (and even on ourselves,) because we are scared.

Fear In our fear, we seek to make the scary thing feel more manageable, even when doing so requires lopping off large pieces of formative data. The harder truths of people’s lives can make us uncomfortable. Sometimes a person is doing something that we haven’t given ourselves internal permission to do. Sometimes others are living in situations that terrify us and we want to push as far away from it as we possibly can. By “‘splaining” their situations, we comfort ourselves with the lie that we could never be in their situation.

Our efforts at self-comfort come at the expense of respect and compassion for the other person, and of growth and healing for ourselves.

Advice/Opinions Some people come to therapy thinking that I will give them advice. I tell people in our very first session: I could never have enough information to know what anyone else should do. I require a respectful collaboration to engage someone in therapy. I have my areas of expertise and training, and the client is the authority on themselves. At the end of the day, I remain well aware that I do not have, and could not ever have, all of the information that informs their choices. That’s not my job.

Likewise, out there “in the wild,” I endeavor to remain mindful that I never know anyone else’s story. This is how we unlearn ‘splaining.

Examples to Consider

  • You may think you know what that parent who is yelling at their kid in the store should do. While clearly yelling at people (of any age) is rarely our best choice, we don’t have any way of knowing the important nuances of the interaction. You don't know what came before and what will come after it. You have no idea how they got to that point, or what either the parent or the child is currently learning.

  • You may think you know how that coworker should deal with being discriminated against in your workplace. I guarantee, you do not, (even if you are both members of the same marginalized group.) You are not them. You’re missing much of what informs their choices.

  • You may think you know how that larger-bodied person at the gym should be exercising. Trust me, you do not. Frankly you do not even know how healthy the person is. They might have better blood pressure, cardio-vascular fitness, and A1C than you do. I’ll touch on this more next week, but this myth that our outer wrappers are an indication of our biometric health is dangerously wrong-headed.

You do not know, and frankly, it’s not your concern. Other people don’t exist as objects for our comfort. They have their own life stories, just as we have ours.

Unlearning Can you see how these poorly informed opinions of other people’s experiences are an effort to make ourselves feel better? You can use the impulse in a positive way. Give yourself the courage to feel your own fears and make conscious choices about how you will take care of yourself. Do your own work. Your life will be richer for it.

Then, from that place of increased wholeness, drop your assumptions about others. Offer respect, empathy, understanding. Let the experiences of others expand your sense of how all of this humanness works. Let’s celebrate our diversity at every level.

There isno hierarchy of humans. I am so grateful.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Want some help unlearning, and working courageously through your own ‘splaining? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s make a plan.