Being prepared

23 Nov

For me, it started with Ted Koppel’s book Lights Out. That’s when the idea of being prepared shifted for me from the pejorative stereotype of conspiracy theorists stocking up on guns, water, ammo, food, and more weapons (see how that stereotype works?) to a reasonable responsibility that anyone should assume, especially if someone else’s well-being depends on you.

The question, of course, is: prepared for what?

Koppel advocates being prepared for our utilities infrastructure (water, electricity, internet…) to go down, either because of malicious, intentional attack or just the consequences of an aging system.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being prepared for something else: being prepared for some of the what if’s that current events post-election suggest are not just things happening in other parts of the country or other neighborhoods. They are things happening right here in our own communities. I’m talking about people of color being told, “You’re gonna be deported.” I’m talking about women, LGBTTQQ people,  Muslims and people of color being told, “Your time is up.” I’m talking about verbal and physical harassment inflicted by people in our communities upon others of us.

We need to be prepared for what to say or do when someone harasses someone else in our communities. Some of us need to be prepared for when someone harasses us (and many of us who can reasonably expect to be told to “go back home” or just “get out” have already, out of necessity, begun our own preparations for personal safety).

If we care about the diversity of our communities and the United States, we need to be prepared for when someone threatens that diversity and our values of inclusion. We can’t afford to be shocked and appalled into inaction. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to be reasonably prepared and able to stand up. I love this advice from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center in “Eight Ways to Stand Up to Hate“:

2. Be the first to speak up

Classic social psychology studies reveal that people typically look to those around them for cues on how to behave—and that they tend to trust those cues even when doing so leads them badly astray. In the Asch conformity experiment, for example, participants were shown a picture of a line and asked to state which of three other lines equaled it in length. When other people around them chose the wrong answer, the subjects often went along with the crowd’s flawed judgment.

But if you’re aware of how people’s conformist tendencies operate, you can try to harness them for good. In a variation on the Asch experiment, people were far less likely to follow the crowd’s lead when there was just one other person near them who chose the correct line lengths. When you speak out about injustices happening in front of you, you can help tip the social balance toward truth.

By taking such a stand, you can influence people on social media, too. NYU researchers reported this year that when people using a racist slur on Twitter were scolded by a highly followed user in their “in-group,” the offenders cut way back on their use of the slur.

3. Practice being conspicuous

To defend someone who’s being threatened, you have to be willing heed your own conscience above all else. But resisting social pressure takes serious guts, and it helps to do some trial runs to feel more at ease.

When he was teaching at Stanford, Zimbardo used to walk his students through an exercise he called “Be a Deviant for a Day”—which could mean, say, drawing a giant circle on their foreheads or wearing a pair of pink bunny slippers around campus. It’s a good way to learn what it feels like to go against the grain. “If you can practice when it’s safe,” says Australian educator Matt Langdon, founder of the Hero Construction Company, “you’re going to be more likely to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

In addition to honing your overall nonconformity game, it pays to rehearse for specific uncomfortable situations you’re likely to encounter. How are you going to react, for instance, if you see a passerby getting attacked in public—or if a friend makes a casual hateful comment at a dinner party? Psychologist Lynne Henderson’s “social fitness” research suggests that if you come up with a plan and practice it (perhaps in a role-play with a friend), you’ll be better prepared to put it into action when it’s most needed.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you and yours find much to be grateful for, and get better and better prepared to put your personal values of inclusion into everyday action.

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