How to Not Be Defensive if You’re Called Out

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I am the outspoken feminist that Pat Robertson warned you about.

Let’s say that you made an insensitive joke or used a term that is offensive to someone but you didn’t realize the impact of it and someone calls you out for it. Sometimes people get pretty defensive when they’re called out but that doesn’t further the conversation or help you to learn and grow. There’s a thing circulating the interwebs about how to respond if this happens to you. Here it is:

called out

(All I can tell about the origin of this thing that I’ve seen shared a bunch of times in my Facebook feed is that it’s from this website. Of course, I wanted to give them credit for it because I didn’t make this myself.)

What I like about it is that it’s relatable. We’ve all had defensive feelings when we’ve been called out on something. Like the CLAIM acronym says, you have to start by calming the hell down. Center yourself. Consider that perhaps this isn’t a personal attack on you and maybe, just maybe, you need to think about the impact of your actions on others. Even if you don’t personally understand why what you did or said was hurtful, it’s important that is was hurtful.

The next step is listening which is always easier said than done. Really try to take in what the other person is saying to you and then acknowledge the harm you caused and apologize. And don’t do that sorry-not-sorry bullshit where you say “I’m sorry you felt that way” or “I’m sorry you were upset”. Nope. It’s “I’m sorry I did that” and “I’m sorry that I hurt you”.

The “I” of the acronym is conditional. It really depends on if the person wants to have an educational conversation with you. As we know, it’s not the job of marginalized people to education others on how to be good allies but sometimes that conversation occurs naturally. Follow their lead.

The final step is simply not doing whatever it was again. Change your behavior.

It’s simple as that. Imagine what the world would be like if instead of our culture of denial — denial of racism, denial of sexism, denial of ableism, etc– we lived in a culture of acknowledgement. If all of us were able to have honest conversations when someone was harmed by, for example, a sexist comment, and the injured party felt heard, acknowledged, and respected, progress would move forward a hell of a lot faster.

As feminists, our voices are important in terms of changing the culture of denial. We can lead by example if we are able to approach being called out with humility and a genuine interest in doing the right thing.