Just Set in Their Ways

making excuses for the inexcusable

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This past week I had the difficult task of attending a funeral, which brought together a conglomerate of people.

There were the family, ex-family, married-in family, and a few spare part-people who were there out of the goodness of their hearts or to service the family with food and comfort, and those of us that seemed to know a few of each of these groups of people.

How often have we used this phrase to excuse bad behavior? I have never really heard that phrase used to explain good behavior.

I was raised to respect my elders. But sometimes when the behavior isn’t respectable it is ok to speak up and say that it is not ok.

Another example:

I recently witnessed online a person saying some truly terribly prejudicial things. I was rather disgusted by what I read in a series of posts condemning people of various non-white, non-American, non-Christian populations.

Who had the bravery to speak out against the bad behavior? This person’s own grandchild.

I was so impressed with this young person’s boldness to speak out against their own grandparent and say that is just not ok for you to say those things and I cannot support that. I commend this young person for standing up for what is right, even when it is highly uncomfortable to do so. I showed the exchanges to my own daughter as a teachable moment.

There’s probably not an easy way to handle these types of situations, but I find myself vowing to no longer use the old familiar excuses that a person is just “set in their ways” or just “doesn’t know any better.”

How will they know any better if we keep excusing them simply because of their age. Age is not a prerequisite for knowing “any better.” If a person hasn’t learned that certain perspectives are no longer socially acceptable and are morally wrong, then even as we attempt to respect our elders, we can still let them know that it is not ok to treat people poorly or voice offensive opinions to the detriment of others.

And simply having lived many years does not give someone a free pass to behave disrespectfully.

Here are a few tips on handling these types of situations:

React calmly

  • Convey disapproval or discomfort, without provoking a defensive reaction.
  • Question their use of the words or action so you can gauge their intent: “Why do you say/do that?”
  • Convey your feelings: Let them know how the comment or joke makes you feel.
  • Question their fear. These can be very useful moments to question someone’s fear and ignorance.
  • Don’t get triggered. Racists want to push your button to get you angry. Just laugh and keep walking.
  • Compliment them on something: ‘Nice shirt’, ‘Nice beard’ or just ‘Love you, mate’.

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