There are a couple of ways that failing to acknowledge and own our social power and choose to use it mindfully can get us into trouble—accidentally and on purpose.
I talked about this a little bit in the September 5 paid-subscriber newsletter, winningly entitled “How Not To Be A Dick To Everybody.”
But right now, in the wake of abuse-of-power and sexual-misconduct allegations against somebody in the gaming industry, Alexis Kennedy, who I sort of knew and was friendly with, and who was a friend of a friend and a colleague of colleagues, it seems relevant to say these things again.
People of good intention worry about not being That Guy. Not being the white person who drowns out people of color, or appropriates the conversation about civil rights from them. Not being the cisdude who uses his power inappropriately, or is perceived to.
And a little bit of worry won’t hurt you. What also won’t hurt you is acknowledging your privilege and social power, and using it for the benefit of everybody in the community where you can.
It feels modest to say, “I’m not all that.” Most of us suffer from imposter syndrome; most of us feel that we’re not all that. Most of us who prop this up in unhealthy ways seem, in my experience, to do it in one of three:
by attaching ourselves to people we perceive as powerful and trying to leverage those relationships into making ourselves look important, too.
by minimizing our own power and authority and denigrating ourselves in the hopes that people will reassure us (and also because we really do feel worthless).
by not taking responsibility for the social consequences of our actions and words.
That last one is the one I want to talk about today.
If I’m powerless and unimportant, than surely it’s not inappropriate for me to use social pressure to get somebody into bed, is it? I mean, I’m not all that. If I’m unimportant, then I don’t have to take responsibility for my boundaries and for how I choose to use my power. I can just do whatever, because it doesn’t matter.
I think this kind of denial is what leads to a lot of unintended social malfeasance.
I’m not saying, mind you, that there aren’t absolutely blatant and intentional abuses of power. And I’m also not saying that the current cases being discussed are in any way accidental. (The body of evidence seems to indicate that very intentional grooming and threats were used. I don’t know, but I believe that the people making these claims are creditable.)
That’s why it’s incumbent on us, as members of a creative community that overlaps publishing, Hollywood, and the gaming industry, to own our own shit first. To ask ourselves if we’re using undue influence to get our way. To figure out if a flirtation is unethical because of an unequal power dynamic, and if so, either equalize the power dynamic or not do the flirt.
Don’t fuck people who report to you, and definitely don’t make them feel as if their job performance reports or personal safety or future career goals is incumbent upon them fucking you.
Look, I have turned down my share of passes from students, in my day. It’s WHAT YOU DO, people. No, it’s not always easy. But it’s the actual right thing to do. Don’t be David Foster Wallace. It’s gross, and casts a shadow over your work forever after.
If there’s a real chance at a relationship that you both want to pursue, get back to that person in a couple of years, when they’re a colleague and not an eager information sponge to whom you have a duty of care and a mentorship relationship.
It’s an abuse of power. And I realize that the first step to recognizing that is realizing that you have power. So it’s incumbent on us to work on internalizing that, and using it responsibly.