Take the Pledge: To Do No Harm

In 2011 I graduated school and stepped off into the real world to become “a communications professional”. More than someone with a basic understanding of spelling and grammar, communications is a career that spans the breadth of society. We’re everywhere, writing both the copy on the cereal boxes and the words that scroll up in front of newscasters and television personalities.

I’ve often espoused the importance of diverse and inclusive writing in popular media, something I consider to be an ethical responsibility. I have seen, without a doubt, the enormous impact of well-written, diverse stories. When someone who has been marginalised by society sees themselves represented in popular culture — and done well, without resorting to stereotyping — it can be a life-altering experience. It’s validating, people have told me, to have your existence acknowledged.

It's validating
Elizabeth shared this thought with me in a previous interview for Why Diverse Games

Although popular culture has often been my soap box of choice, the recent US election results have shown me that picking just one soap box simply isn’t enough. Yes, I believe that through representation in film, TV and gaming we will see a change in our society — but what can we do today?

At one AM the night of the election, I lay tearfully in bed refreshing the results on my phone. As the inevitable was confirmed, I spilt my thoughts on paper and tried to get some sleep.

“It’s hard to put what we’re feeling right now into words. Despite what we’re seeing, I know progress is still being made towards equality and equity. I am sure many voters cast their ballot because they were uncomfortable with the changes happening in society. Often, we forget that change itself is uncomfortable and even scary, and that for good things to happen we will have to deal with our discomfort first. Going backwards is not the answer. Are our beliefs, traditions or attitudes being challenged? Don’t settle for “that’s what I was always told” or “that’s what I learned then…” work for the truth. Open yourself to other voices and listen.

I am a heterosexual, white female living in Canada, my privilege is undeniable. I was raised a certain way, I was taught and exposed to only certain things — the only way I can grow as a human being is to expose myself to the experiences of others and do my best to empathise and learn from the things I do not understand.

I say, let’s not get comfortable again. Let’s continue calling out hurtful behaviour and do our best to move forward.

As a communicator, I understand the power of words both to maim and to heal. I am thinking a lot tonight about the Hippocratic Oath and the words “to do no harm”. I have always believed that sticks and stones break bones — but words hurt too. In today’s society, you don’t need a degree to be a communicator. We all have access to the weapons to hurt our neighbours and friends. They’re buttons that say “tweet” or “update” or “comment”.

I want to encourage everyone I know to take an oath, to DO NO HARM.
First, I encourage intolerance of intolerance. I am going to take a harder stance on my own social media use. I am going to respond to hurtful comments and I am no longer going to ignore hurtful shares. It is never OK to contribute to the marginalisation of another human being, not through jest, not through ‘satire’ and not through adherence to religious or social doctrine.

Before you post, consider if your words take into account the experiences of others. Before you tweet, consider your own place of privilege and what meaning your words can take. Before you upload, comment or share — vet your sources, verify your information. Be diligent, be purposeful and be mindful of others.

We must seek out the voices of those different from ourselves and lift up those voices before our own. We must open ourselves up to uncomfortable discussions and two-way conversations. We must tread lightly with our friends and followers who may well be hurting in ways we cannot understand. To simply say “it’s going to be OK” is to dismiss the serious concerns of those who are under threat.

Everyone processes differently, it’s OK to treat hard subjects with humour and satire — but we must also consider the intent behind our jokes, the privilege behind our words. It is not OK to dismiss, or be insensitive to the experiences of others. If someone comes to you and says, “your words have hurt me” how will you react? Equally important as deliberate consideration is gracious apology.

Learn to say “I’m sorry, thank you for letting me know, I will do better.” Believe me, you will not always get it right. That’s not what this is about. If you are trying, if you are listening, there will be opportunity for correction. When this happens, you don’t need to ask the person for how you can do better — take it on yourself to research and learn without making that person step into the educating role. Recognize how having to educate you, after being hurt by you, might be asking too much.

I believe for change to happen — we must foster spaces safe enough for two-way conversation. Right now, everyone feels under attack. Shortly after the American election Albertans were faced with a right wing, female politician stepping down from her parties leadership race after being targeted by mysoginistic attacks. This is not debate. This is not discussion. This is hate speach and it cannot be tolerated. Not in the gaming industry, and not in politics.

One last word– standing out in my original one AM thoughts was the idea that change is uncomfortable. Dealing with the conflicting values of others is uncomfortable. This goes both ways, right and left. Even if an idea is presented respectfully, free of bigotry and insult — it might cause discomfort. Even so, these conversations are hugely important. We must be willing to explain our views, not for the purpose of changing minds, but to educate and facilitate respectful cooperation. Lean into discomfort. Allow it to challenge you.

This was a long post. Bless you for your diligence. If you want to take the pledge with me to Do No Harm, take one of these graphics or make your own, share it around. Let’s make our own social media channels safe for everyone. #wordsdonoharm