social skills powerful people need to learn

Being dependent on vs being limited by

This isn’t quite the right concept but… these things are different:

  • being dependent on something
  • being unpleasantly or destructively limited by something

Being dependent on something can be really good. It can make things possible that weren’t before it. We’re all dependent on technology in one way or another (for instance, heating and air conditioning. Shoes. Large-scale agriculture.).

Sometimes people object to dependence because they think it will impose an unpleasant limitation. Even when it would actually make more things possible. 

Like, someone thinks they (or someone in their care) shouldn’t use a wheelchair because then they’ll only be able to go where a wheelchair can go. They won’t be able to use stairs and such anymore. And sometimes this is true.

But often, this can mean that someone can only go as far as they can walk, and can only stay out for as long as they can stand. So they have trouble leaving the house, or going places for long periods of time. And are much more limited than they otherwise would be. Dependence isn’t bad, if it makes you able to do more things. 

AAC can be like this, too. Verbal speech is more flexible, in principle, all things being equal. But all things aren’t equal, even for people who have some verbal speech. The important thing is for someone to have as much communication as possible. For people who get more communication from relying on things other than speech, dependence isn’t a bad thing. It’s good. It makes life better.

Getting more ability to do stuff you care about should be the goal. Not a particular way of doing it. Not judged against a theoretical ideal. Judged against what actually works best for you (or your child).

Respect names

This is something that often happens in English-speaking schools to kids from other cultures:

  • A kid has a non-English name
  • The teacher decides it would be better if they had an English name
  • They give the kid a different name, and refuse to call them their actual name
  • Or heavily pressure the kid into changing their name

This also happens to some kids in foster care. Their foster parents or social workers will decide that their name is a problem, and assign them a different name.

Some reasons adults in power will cite for doing this to kids in their care:

  • The name is hard to pronounce
  • Other kids make fun of the name
  • A kid with a non-English name will feel different from the other kids
  • Having a different name will make it easier for the kid to assimilate into English-speaking culture
  • And then the teacher makes the kid use a different name, one that’s more usual in English

Don’t do this. Names are important. It’s not ok to change someone else’s name.

It’s actually *more* important not to change a kid’s name if other kids are making fun of it, because:

  • You’re teaching the kid that their name is wrong
  • And that it’s their own fault they’re being bullied, that it’s because they’re weird
  • It also teaches the bullies that it’s ok to bully people for having weird names, and that they’re entitled to have other people erase themselves for their sake
  • A kid who is being bullied for their name will also be bullied for other things, especially if they are from a non-English-speaking culture
  • Changing the kid’s name will not stop this, it will just make the rest of it harder to take

Names are important. Respecting someone’s name is part of respecting them as a person. It’s not ok to change their name for your convenience.


Social skills for autonomous people: omgfabulous: Social skills for autonomous people: A suggestion for…


Social skills for autonomous people: A suggestion for doctors



A lot of people have trouble talking to doctors. A lot of people have trouble raising concerns unless they’re explicitly invited to do so.

It can be helpful to ask at the…

stridersnakedtuesdays said


- Do not assume just because they SEEM calm that there is
nothing wrong with them. Some patients are too freaked out to be expressive.

- Do not insist that they see a psychiatrist the second they start showing emotion or crying, no matter WHAT their mental health history is. Being ill or in pain is scary and patients have every right to react to that fear.

- Do not walk out of the room until your patient has expressed that they are satisfied with the conclusion. Just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean they’re done, it can often mean they need a second to think.

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.

another thing about privilege

If you have a lot of privilege, you’ve learned to take up all or most of the space when you’re around people below you in the hierarchy. 

It’s important to learn to stop doing that. It’s important to learn how to be in a space without dominating it. It means learning to listen to people you’ve been systemically taught that it’s ok to talk over.

This can be hard to learn. When you stop dominating spaces, you have to live with less control, space, and attention than you’ve become accustomed to. You’re going to feel constrained, and like the other people are taking up all the space – even if you’re still taking up most of it.

And, once it becomes clear that you’re trying, people will express anger at you a lot more than then used to. This might feel really unfair, since you’re acting better than you ever have before, yet you’re attracting a lot more anger and criticism. 

The reason it works this way is because people used to put up with you treating them badly because they didn’t see any point in objecting. Most people who have privilege and power over others don’t especially care about how it hurts people. Further, a lot of them get really angry and retaliate when it’s pointed out. You’ve shown that you’re someone who might actually listen. That means you’re the one who gets yelled at.

It’s not fair, but the people who are yelling at you aren’t the ones responsible for the unfairness. Don’t get angry at them for it - get angry at the people like you who aren’t getting yelled at because they don’t give a damn. And maybe start calling them on it and make their indifference cost them something. You’re probably in a much better position to do this than the people below you in the hierarchy. 

And keep in mind that the situation faced by the people who are yelling at you is a hell of a lot more unfair than the situation you’re in.

That said, don’t beat yourself up for feeling frustrated, either. This is hard, and it’s ok to find it difficult. You’re going to make mistakes, and some of this is really going to suck. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you can’t learn how to act right. (Also, sometimes people will tell you that you’re oppressing them when you’re not. You can’t automatically assume that everyone is right when they tell you off – but if you’re in a highly privileged group and you think *everyone* who is telling you off is wrong, you’re probably the one who is wrong.)

Just keep trying, and don’t make the people below you responsible for making you feel better.

Being aware of privilege only helps if you do something

Talking about how privileged you are and how much you acknowledge your privilege doesn’t do much, on its own.

It has to actually change what you do.

It can actually make things worse, if all you do is mention it.

Because then the implication is “yeah, I know I’m privileged and have all kinds of unwarranted power over others, but I don’t really care and it’s not going to change what I do. Please to be praising me for noticing this. I’m pretty great.”

And people you have power over can come under a lot of pressure to give you the praise you want, and to help you feel ok about the discrimination you participate in. Don’t do this to people.

When you have privilege, you have obligations that go along with it. You have unwarranted power that you can’t renounce, and the obligation to learn what to do with it. If you’re not willing to think about your power and examine what you do with it, you’re not going to be able to avoid abusing it.

There are any number of other implications too. And there are things it’s not ok to participate in even if it would benefit you, and even if it’s hard-to-impossible to get those things otherwise.

Don’t expect noticing and naming your privilege categories to be enough.

Acknowledging power

When you have power over someone, it’s important to acknowledge it. If you don’t acknowledge that you have power, it’s hard to examine your use of it. If you’re not paying attention to how you’re using your power, you will come to abuse it, and you won’t notice.

Sometimes, when people are uncomfortable having power over others, they deal with this by telling jokes about it. These jokes are about either denying that they have power, or denying that they’d ever be capable of abusing it. For instance:

  • Jokes about how people who they have power over are really in charge  (eg: “Sometimes I say my secretary is *my* boss”, “I’m the teacher, but the kids are really running the show”.
  • Jokes about how they could abuse power. (“Next thing you know, I’ll be having you interns fetch my dry cleaning and babysitting my kids.”)
  • Jokes about how people could overthrow them. (“I see you three gossiping. Plotting a revolt?”)
  • Jokes about being an oppressive boss (“I’m such a big mean ogre.”)
  • Pretend unreasonable orders (“We all have to work until midnight… haha just kidding, go enjoy your family”)

These jokes are especially bad when they’re told by a powerful person to someone they outrank. They’re basically the humor equivilent of saying, “You’d better tell me that I don’t actually have power over you and that I never misuse it.”

Getting people to tell you that you’re a good person doesn’t help you to treat others well. Acknowledging your power, thinking about how you use it, and soliciting and listening to actual feedback does.

Another thing about therapy

A good percentage of people who need therapy only get it after repeatedly failing at things everyone around them can do. (Especially developmentally disabled children). This is often humiliating.

This means that therapy can be triggering. Therapy involves focusing on difficulties that someone has learned to regard as humiliating flaws. It’s important to keep this in mind when you give therapy.

Don’t expect someone to trust you right away. You have to demonstrate that you are trustworthy. You have to show them that you can be relied on to treat them respectfully. You have to demonstrate that you won’t ever regard them as broken, or make respecting them contingent on them progressing toward a cure.

And it needs to be true. You can’t just affect safety and kindness. You have to actually be trustworthy in a deep way, and let that show through your action.

You don’t get to decide when you have established trust; you don’t get to decide when someone receiving therapy should feel safe. It’s up to the person getting the therapy. (Even if they are a child.)

And if you understand this, you’ll be much more able to help people.


This is a good example of something used to intentionally confuse powerless people about communication and consent.

This is a worksheet with typed questions. A student’s (defiant) responses are in handwriting. The handwritten responses are in [brackets]. This worksheet is not about problem solving or communication. The only possible responses that will be accepted are pre-determined compliant responses. This worksheet is an example of something that intentionally confuses students about consent and communication, and confuses them into thinking they “agreed” to things that were in fact imposed on them.

Do not do this.

Text of the sheet follows:

Classroom Expectations and Responses


In order to better manage the class, together we will discuss and elaborate procedures for the following situations in the classroom. For each situation, we will decide which actions should be taken by me, Mr. Thomas, and yourself, the student.

1. If I have a question, need help, have a problem, or need to interrupt Mr. Thomas, 

I will [shout my opinion]

 Mr. Thomas will [shout back]

2. If I arrive in class without the necessary tools, such as pens, pencils, worksheets, or my binder,

I will [freak out]

Mr. Thomas will [cry]

3. If I am late to class,

I will [burst into class and comment on Mr. Thomas’s mustache] 

Mr .Thomas will [blush and say thanks]

4. If I am late for class [4] times,

I will [make an effort to be late next time]

Mr. Thomas will [give me a high-five]

5. If I am absent from class,

I will [probably be out partying somewhere]

Mr .Thomas will [miss me dearly]

6. If I do not hand in an assignment or lose an assignment

I will [bribe the teacher]

Mr .Thomas will [be able to afford a new laptop]

7. If I need to use the washroom or pencil sharpener

I will [kill 2 birds with one stone and sharpen my pencil on the way to the bathroom]

Mr .Thomas will [be proud of my efficiency]

8. If I arrive in class or am found in class with food or drink, in the class

I will [share]

Mr .Thomas will [not get any]

9. If I am caught using a cellphone or other electronic device without permission,

I will [say “Hold on a sec, I’m making a call]

Mr .Thomas will [understand]

10. If I am disruptive in class, (For example, constantly leaving my desk or work area, interrupting Mr. Thomas when he is giving instruction, distracting others while ignoring my work)

I will [begin a mutiny]

Mr .Thomas will [begin his downfall]

Are there other situations which need to be discussed?

[Mr. Thomas will be tied down, Jacob will reign over the classroom]

Social skill: respecting the closet

It’s not always safe for people to be out. How out to be is a personal decision.

Don’t assume that someone being out in one context means they’re out in call contexts.

Do not ask if someone is gay within earshot of their boss or parents or anyone else who has power over them. No matter how cool you think those people are.

Recognize that your personal attitude about gay/queer/trans/other dangerous secret, does not protect people from the consequences of being out.

The larger context in which being out is dangerous exists no matter what you do - you can only make the world a bit safer by being trustworthy, and part of that is respecting and keeping confidences.

(And this applies generally to stigmatized categories, not just sexual orientation stuff).

Asking the right questions

So, there are good and bad ways to use two-choice questions.

There’s the way that’s trying to get people to say particular things and make people comply. Like this:

“Are you ready to look at me when you talk, or should we continue this later?”

That kind of question forces an answer that one way or another, is the answer the questioner wants. It makes it so someone can’t say what they really want to say, so they can’t say “I don’t want to look at you but I do want you to listen to me”.

And there’s the way that’s trying to get actual communication, trying to help someone say *what they actually want to say*.

Like this:

“Do you want to talk right now, or stop talking?” if it’s an actual attempt to figure out whether someone wants to have the conversation.

And they look the same, in certain ways. 

But they’re not. They’re not.

Because only one allows someone to say no. Or to give a response the questioner doesn’t want.

And if you can’t say no, it isn’t communication.

And I didn’t explain that clearly in my post about this.

And it got thousands of notes.

And I’m scared that some people thought I was endorsing the former, the kind where it’s fake communication that confuses vulnerable people about what communication is.

No no no not that.

I mean communication. Not compliance-getting.