making mistakes

Open Letter to People Who Do Things

If you do things that others know about, you will attract a lot of criticism.

People will think you’re wrong a lot. Sometimes you will actually be wrong; sometimes you won’t be.

Sometimes people will be vicious. Sometimes people will try to hurt you as badly as they possibly can.

No matter how well you do things, there will be people who are disgusted by what you do and think you’re a terrible person.

No matter how politically neutral the thing you do is, people will attack it for political reasons. (Either a specific reason, or they’ll say it’s frivolous and that you should be fighting global warming or poverty or something instead.)

If you charge money for what you do, people will be outraged (including people who would never work for free.)

No matter how much you charge, people will angrily tell you that it’s too much.

Even if you work for free, people will be angry with you for addressing some things but not others. Or for not giving them what they want fast enough.

No matter how well you consider other sides, someone will angrily accuse you of censorship or refusing to listen.

And so on and so on. No matter what you do, there are people who will be angry and disgusted by it. There will be people who will hate you. There will be people who try to hurt you to make you stop. This happens to absolutely everyone who does things that a lot of other people know about. It is possible to live with that.

(Part of the way to live with that is by learning to keep perspective in the face of other people’s anger.)

A note about criticism - it’s important to be open to criticism, because sometimes you will be wrong. In order to be truly open to criticism, you have to get past the desire to appease everyone who is mad at you. If you try to please everyone, what ends up happening is that you end up deferring to whoever is the loudest and meanest. Listening to criticism in a good way means you have to be selective — and it also usually means disengaging from jerks.

You don’t have to be perfect to do things that matter. If only perfect people could do things, nothing would ever get done. Everyone who has every done anything has also been flawed in a serious way. Because that’s how people are.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t owe the world a heckler’s veto. There will always be people who don’t like you or your work. That doesn’t mean you have to stop. It doesn’t mean you have to engage with them. It just means that you’re being noticed, and that some people don’t like what they’re seeing.

tl;dr If you do things that people notice, some people who notice will be mean to you and try to convince you that you are terrible. That happens to everyone who does things. It doesn’t mean you’re terrible. It means you’re visible. Being open to criticism doesn’t mean giving the world a heckler’s veto. It’s ok to do things even if you’re imperfect and sometimes people are angry at you.

More on learning to say no

When you first start learning how to say no, you won’t know how to do it politely.

This means that you’ll offend people. Even when you have every right to say no. Even when everyone agrees that it’s ok to say no.

Asserting boundaries politely is a skill worth acquiring, if you can do it. But that takes time and practice. It’s something that’s learned alongside learning how to have boundaries; it’s not something you can learn first as a prerequisite for being allowed to have boundaries.

And when you haven’t figured out how to say no politely, the reactions you get might look to you like evidence that you really *can’t* say no. It might look to you like you have to choose between having no boundaries, or hurting people in unreasonable ways.

This is especially true if you are a disabled person who has learned to pass as nondisabled by following rules. A lot of disabled people are taught that they must pass at all costs, and taught not to asset boundaries as part of this. Starting to learn to have boundaries will probably undermine your ability to pass. That can be terrifying, and some ways people react might be triggering. But you’re ok. You’re not broken. You’re allowed to have boundaries, even if it means looking weird. Even if it breaks rules. Even if people are offended. You are a person and you have rights.

The rules for politely asserting boundaries are really complicated. It takes time and practice to learn these rules. And not everyone can master them. And even people who can have to be rude sometimes in order to have boundaries, and that’s ok too. Being able to be polite is not a prerequisite for having rights.

It’s ok to say no, and it’s ok to have a rough time learning how.