not that kind of person

"Have fun" should not be a rule

A lot of summer camps, youth groups, and other activities have a “have fun” rule.

The implied message is usually: This is a fun place. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong. Fix your attitude and have fun doing the fun activities.

Sometimes “have fun” rules are explicit. Sometimes they’re more implicit, and come in forms like: making people sing a song every day about how much they love camp, announcements about “we’re all having so much fun!”, or whatever else.

The problem with this is: nothing is fun for everyone. People have the right to feel how they feel about things. It’s really degrading to tell an unhappy person that they should just feel some other way.

“Have fun” rules are especially problematic for many disabled people.

Because — most programs are not fully accessible, even when they think they are. Most of us expect to encounter activities that are inaccessible in ways that make participation impossible — or that make them no fun.

And often, initially fun activities are ruined when someone treats you in a degrading way or says something awful about disability.

Being left out when everyone else is having fun is bad enough. When there’s a “have fun” rule, it’s even worse. Not only are you hurt by the exclusion, you’re told that you’re violating the rules by being hurt and unhappy.

“Have fun” rules make it really hard to solve these problems, because they make it risky to admit that you’re not having a good time.

“Have fun” rules make problems harder to solve, even when the problem has a straightforward solution. All the more so when the problem is complicated. (Or only has a partial solution.)

“Have fun” rules actually make things a lot less fun.

Detecting imperius curses

There are patterns of psychological manipulation that have very similar effects as the imperius curse described in Harry Potter. When you’re on the receiving end, it can be very hard to figure out what’s going on and resist.

One way to tell is watching how you change when you’re around someone, especially if you’re not comfortable with the changes. Double especially if they emphatically say that they are not trying to influence you and would never try to influence you.

For instance, if your views change dramatically around someone else in this kind of pattern:

  • You normally think one thing
  • When you’re with this person, your views dramatically change
  • When you’re not with them, you can’t understand why your views changed
  • Or you might even find the views you adopted in their presence repulsive
  • But it keeps happening over and over when you interact with them

Especially if this happens when you try to contradict them:

  • You: I don’t agree with you about x. I don’t see myself that way. I don’t believe that.
  • Them: Why are you telling me that? What makes you think I ever told you what to think?
  • (And then, somehow, you still end up thinking the thing while you’re with them. And not thinking it when you’ve been away from them for a while.)

This can also happen with actions. Sometimes imperius curses mean that being around someone affects what you do. It can mean you do a lot of things you don’t think that you want to do. It can mean being really confused about why you did the things.

Particularly if this happens when you try to avoid doing the things:

  • You: I don’t want to do x.
  • Them: Did I ever say you should? All I did was ask.
  • (Then you somehow still end up doing the thing. And when you’re not with them, you don’t think you want to do the thing and aren’t quite sure how it happened.)

Another pattern:

  • They say they’re not trying to influence you.
  • You try to express a different opinion or desire or choice
  • If you’re trying to express a thought or desire, you don’t get to complete the thought or process why you think it
  • Instead, the conversation drifts into their opinion
  • You end up feeling like you agree, and complying with it
  • It’s not really agreement, because you weren’t really able to think about what they are saying and what you think about it, and why you think what you think
  • It’s being prompted into an emotional state in which disagreeing with their position feels impossible or petty, and in which surrendering is a relief

When you try to express a choice:

  • They pretend that you didn’t express a choice
  • And keep talking about it as though a decision has not been made
  • (And maybe say some things that might be reasonable if you hadn’t already made a choice and expressed your choice)
  • (Or some things that would make sense if you’d asked for their advice)
  • They also say some things that are just prompting you in the direction they want you to go in
  • And somehow, the conversation never stops until you give in to what they wanted
  • (And, often, not until you feel like it was your idea and reassure them that you agree with them, or maybe even thank them for their help)

Another pattern:

  • They say something awful about you in a tone that sounds loving and compassionate
  • The way they speak to you makes it hard to realize that any other opinion is possible.
  • You might end up thanking them
  • (And then possibly getting angry hours or weeks later when the effect wears off)
  • (And being really confused about what happened).

These are a few examples. There are many other ways this can play out.

Changing your opinion in response to someone else’s ideas is not bad in itself. Neither is changing your mind about what you want to do. Those are both important things to do in a lot of situations. The reason that imperius curse effects are bad isn’t that people subjected to them change their opinions or desires. Changing can be good; it’s the *kinds* of changes that imperius curse effects cause that’s the problem.

Imperius curse effects are bad because they short-circuit persuasion and induce compliance. They create emotional prompts that feel like believing something, even if you haven’t actually been persuaded of it. Or prompts that feel similar to wanting to do something, even if you don’t actually want to do it. It makes it hard to tell that the other person ends somewhere, and that your thoughts and feelings matter and might be different from theirs. It’s an intense violation, and it can be hard to detect and resist. I think knowing about the patterns helps some.

tl;dr The effects of the Imperius Curse described in Harry Potter are very similar to a form of non-magical emotional manipulation that happens in the real world. They trick people into feeling like they want things they don’t want, or like they agree with things they don’t agree with. There are some patterns they tend to happen in. Knowing about the patterns can make them easier to detect.

Don't let someone tell you that you're "not that kind of person"

Sometimes this happens:

  • You’re worried that you’ve done a bad thing.
  • Or that you’re going to do a bad thing
  • And you go to someone for help thinking through it
  • And they say “Oh, no, you’re not the kind of person who would do that.”

That’s not a good thing to take for an answer, because there aren’t kinds of people who do bad things and kinds of people who don’t. Everyone does bad things sometimes. It’s really important to keep that in mind, and to actively work on noticing and fixing it.

Doing right by others is a skill. One you always have to keep working on. Not an innate attribute.

If you’re worried that you’ve done wrong, don’t let someone tell you that you’re not the kind of person who would do such a thing. When you’re worried about the possibility of hurting people, what matters is to figure out what you are actually doing. It’s not a referendum on what kind of person you are. It’s about what you do, and how to make what you do good.

Crucial differences

These things are different:

  • Wanting something to be true
  • Wanting to think something is true
  • Wanting someone else to feel like something is true
  • Wanting reassurance that something is true

An example:

  • Interacting with someone consensually
  • Feeling like your interactions are consensual
  • Having that person think of the interactions as consensual
  • Having that person reassure you that things are consensual.

And another:

  • Not wanting to put someone in danger
  • Wanting to feel like a safe person
  • Wanting someone to feel safe
  • Wanting someone to reassure you that they feel safe

And these:

  • Seeking to avoid abusing anyone
  • Seeking to avoid seeing yourself as an abusive person
  • Wanting others to see you as someone who doesn’t abuse others
  • Wanting others to reassure you that you’re not the kind of person who abuses people

And this too:

  • Respecting someone’s boundaries
  • Feeling like you’re a person who respects boundaries
  • Wanting someone to feel as though their boundaries are being respected
  • Wanting someone to reassure you that you’re not crossing any lines

If you don’t understand the difference, you’re dangerous to people you have power over.

Because feelings and perceptions can be manipulated without changing the underlying reality.

Making people feel safe isn’t enough; you also have to create real safety. Making people tell you that you’re not crossing a line isn’t enough; you have to actually care about their boundaries. Seeing yourself as a non-abusive person isn’t enough; you have to actively pay attention to treating people well.

If you want to do right by people, you have to care about the reality.

“I would never abuse anyone!”

This kind of conversation is a major red flag:

  • Bob: I’m going to go to the mall.
  • Stan: Don’t go to the mall. I want you to stay home.
  • Bob: Um, why not? I need new trousers.
  • Stan: Why are you taking that tone?! Are you saying I’m abusive? You wouldn’t be upset if I wasn’t abusive, so you must think I’m abusing you. I’d never abuse anyone! How dare you?!

Another version:

  • Bob: Could you not make jokes about my weight? It makes me feel bad.
  • Stan: I would never do anything to hurt you! How dare you call this bullying!

It’s especially bad when:

  • It happens every time Stan and Bob want different things.
  • Because it gets to the point where it’s impossible for Bob to say no without accusing Stan of being abusive
  • Or where Bob can’t express a preference that conflicts with Stan’s. 
  • This means that Bob has to always do what Stan wants, or else call Stan a bad person
  • This is an awful way to live

In a mutually respectful relationship:

  • People want different things from time to time
  • People hurt each other in minor ways
  • People make mistakes, and need to be told about them
  • Everyone understands this, and can accept that their friend/partner/whatever wants something different, or is upset about something they did
  • They understand that wanting different things, or being upset about something, is not an accusation of abuse.

If someone close to you claims that you’re accusing them of being abusive every time you have a conflict with them, they probably are, in fact, being abusive.

A red flag: "I'm not that kind of person"

Any variant of this conversation is a major red flag:

  • Person: Please stop doing x
  • Other person: I would never x! I’m not the kind of person who does x!

Or this:

  • Person: I’ve had problems with x in the past. Please make sure not to x.
  • Other person: How dare you suggest I am the kind of person who would x?!

Or this:

  • Person: Please x.
  • Other person: Of course I’m going to x! How dare you say I wouldn’t?!

Here are some less abstract examples:

  • Person: Please stop pulling my hair
  • Other person: I’m not pulling your hair! I’m just brushing it. That doesn’t hurt. I’m not the kind of person who hurts people when I brush their hair.
And this:
  • Person: I’ve had problems in the past with roommates eating my food. Can you reassure me that you won’t eat my food?
  • Other person: I’m not the kind of person who eats other people’s food. Why would you say that about me?!

And this:

  • Person: When are you going to pay me back the money I lent you?
  • Other person: I’m going to pay you back! I’m not the kind of person who neglects to pay people back!

In all of these cases, Other Person is construing a conversation about a problem, or a request to solve a problem, as an attack on their character. Most people don’t want to attack the character of others, especially on issues that aren’t quite deal-breaking, and so often, this works and gets them to drop the issue and let Other Person keep doing the objectionable thing.

There aren’t kinds of people who do bad things, and kinds of people who do good things. Everyone does bad things sometimes; it is important to be aware of this and correct problems you cause. Making everything about whether you are The Kind Of Person who does bad things prevents you from seeing and fixing your mistakes.

Acting this way is *really nasty*.  Don’t do it, and don’t let others trick you with it.