Being an Enabler

When I attended Dragon Con, I listed to a speech about polyamory, and mentioned that briefly in this post.  I was just thinking about this concept and how I feel about it.  Personally, I think that what consenting adults do together is their own business, and unless they're spreading disease, it's really of no concern to anyone else, and certainly not to me.  But, I'm just thinking that if I had a friend who was in some sort of polyamorous relationship, I would want them to feel comfortable being open about that with me.  I would not want to make a friend feel like they need to hide the people who are special to them from me.  I think it's sad that most polyamorous people feel like they do need to hide from society, because there is so much judgement from society.  And sadly, because that is how society is, any polyamorous friends that I have (now or in the future) are going to be less likely to be open with me about it.  But there certainly are things that I can do to make people more comfortable about being open with me.

I've thought about this idea countless times during the last several years in the context of raising children.  Even when I was a believing Mormon, I felt like I wanted to have a relationship with my children where they felt like they could come talk to me about anything that was going on in their life (a stupid mistake they had made, or an intense emotion they were feeling, something that someone had said or done to them at school, etc) and not feel judged or shamed.  I really do want to adopt children some day, and when I do, I want them to be able to come talk to me about anything.  I want them to feel comfortable talking to me about sex, about their feelings, about anything that's been bothering them or anything they need help or guidance with.

As I was pondering the concept specifically of polyamory, I thought that I really do want that to be true of all of my friends.  I want everyone who is a part of my life to feel comfortable enough around me that they can be authentic in every way.  I don't want to make friends feel like they have to hide part of themselves around me because I'll judge them.  I don't want to make a person feel like ey are odd, strange, stupid, weird, inappropriate, immoral, or whatever, just for being the person that ey truly is.  I want to encourage authenticity.  I want to elicit genuine expression.

But that's not true.  I'd be lying if I said that I want to support everyone in what they think and feel and do.  Because I don't and I think that someone who does is immoral.  If I had a friend who felt that for em being authentic meant killing people for no reason, I would not be friends with that person.  In fact, I would encourage em to get professional help, and I would probably report em to the authorities myself.  I know that if I encountered something like that or child abuse or sexual harassment on the job, I actually have a responsibility as part of my code of conduct in the bylaws of my place of employment to report such activity as soon as I am aware of it, and I would have no difficulty doing so.  I think that anytime people are oppressed, such as is the case with sexual harassment, child abuse/molestation, rape, etc, the perpetrator must be brought to justice.

So, I won't have any difficulty breaking ties with a friend who is a sexual predator or sociopathic in any other way.  I won't be friends with someone who feels it is appropriate to molest children or to rape or physically harm other people.  Even if any of these actions are ones that ey feels is an expression of authenticity.  I find it immoral and I cannot condone it.  I won't be friends with someone who does not feel that all people should be granted equal protection under the law.  I will not be friends with a bigot.  I think that such behavior should be discouraged, and ostracism is one effective method of discouraging it.

But, aside from all of the immoral or psychopathic things that a person might do, I really do want to be supportive of any decision a friend makes.  I think that being authentic is a goal we should all have, and that I want to encourage all of my friends to achieve that goal.  So, how do I do that?  How do I encourage my friends to "be themselves"?

I don't do a good job of this.  I'm too self-centered to do a good job.  The way my brain works, most of the thoughts I have are about me.  I don't think about other people as often as I should.  I need to start thinking about other people.  I need to think about the feelings of other people.  Not just whether something I say will be interpreted as kind or offensive, but more generally, trying to feel what another person feels.  Trying to understand em.

Here's an example.  I may have a friend say something like "I know that God is real." and when they do, I am nearly always tempted to respond with "And I know that he isn't."  I usually don't respond in this way, and I honestly don't know whether I should or not.  Certainly, it is true that I don't believe in gods, and my knowledge that he doesn't exist is just as sure as my friend's knowledge that he does.  I feel like atheists pushing back against the religious and standing up for our right to declare our non-belief is a good cause, and I mean to support it every step of the way.  But, I also think it's wise to choose one's battles.  When I'm having a private conversation with a friend, I don't think it's necessarily advancing the cause of "atheist rights" to contradict eir belief in deity.  The thing is, if I have a friend who sincerely believes in a god, I want em to feel comfortable enough around me to profess that belief. I don't want to make em feel like ey needs to pretend around me that ey doesn't believe.  I may feel like I should announce my non-belief in the name of being authentic, but more often than not it is the case that the friend in question is already aware that I am a professed atheist and therefore there is no need to reiterate the point.

Anyway, the point is that I want to be more accepting of other people and become better at enabling them to be authentic around me.  I don't want to make people feel like they need to filter themselves around me, or filter what they say or do around me.  I especially don't want someone to feel like ey needs to hide a romantic/sexual relationship from me because I'll judge em for it.