I used to be really, really good at quitting.
I can think of several instances in my past where I would be attempting something, run into the first real obstacle, and just give up. I would avoid putting myself in positions where I would have to deal with any major difficulties or consequences. I hate to admit it, but I was something of a coward. While I still remain afraid of screwing up, letting people down, or hurting the feelings of those I care about, I’ve learned that giving up before all alternatives are exhausted yields only more doubt, disappointment, and is generally less favorable than making legitimate efforts.
It feels a bit odd for me to talk about hardships and difficulties when I’m a white cis male in the first world, which is about as privileged as you can get. I’m not really wanting for food, shelter, clothing, or any of the essentials a human being needs. It should be an easy life for me. I’m choosing to make it more difficult by involving myself in the things I choose to be involved in, and in that I am engineering my own defeats. And yet, I know if I simply enjoy my privileges and do not take steps to share what I can with the world around me, I am no better than a day-trader on Wall Street or a corrupt corporate executive. So I try to make the world a better place, and sometimes, the world seems determined to remain terrible.
Case in point: I’ve made the choice to be an Enforcer, part of the PAX volunteer staff, and by extension, I am tangentially connected to Penny Arcade and its creators. Mike (“Gabe”) has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth when it comes to sensitive issues, and this was the case yesterday. He made a comment that was offensive to the transgender community, and the resulting exchange has caused people to call for PAX boycotts and, if I understand the situation correctly, several of my fellow Enforcers have quit in a show of solidarity with those offended by Mike’s comment. They more than likely see Mike’s apology and exchange with Sophie Prell as half-hearted or perfunctory or some other word for insincere.
I for one am willing to give Mike the benefit of the doubt. As I see it, the possibilities are that he makes comments that he thinks are funny and only occasionally gets it right; he puts his foot in his mouth more often than not by tweeting before he thinks; or he’s a deplorable human being through and through. What I have seen and heard of the man leads me to believe that the first two cases are the most likely. Considering his brand is one that is mostly comedic, the first is the logical conclusion for me to draw. Penny Arcade has done a lot for the gaming community, children’s charities, and a more inclusive Internet in general; why would I want to disassociate from that?
Don’t get me wrong. Anybody who feels strongly enough to quit or boycott has my understanding. Not everybody is wired the way I am. And, to be frank, I could be wired completely wrong. I’m willing to consider and even accept that, if presented with sufficient evidence.
But I refuse, to the core of my being, to quit now. Not when I can try to change things for the better.
I know that I can’t change people who don’t want to change. And I know that my words and actions may have zero effect on the people or world around me in general. I accept that. What I will not accept is the idea that I cannot change anything at all on an individual level. I don’t want to muck around with people’s brains to make them what I would consider “better” – each individual is entitled to be and think and feel however they want to be and think and feel. I have no claim to change things within another person’s being by force. That isn’t right.
All I can do, all I want to do, is be the best human individual I can be, engage as often as possible in what I consider to be better behavior, exemplify compassion and understanding for my fellow human beings, and do what I can, small as it may be, to make the world around me a better place. Every person deserves to be treated with respect, and the best way for me to get that idea into the heads of others is to be as respectful as I can with everyone around me, especially strangers. As an Enforcer, I meet thousands of strangers. This, to me, is an excellent way to ensure that I am doing as much as possible to be the change I want to see in the world. I may affect even more if I can get more writing off the ground; time will tell on that score.
But I’m not going to quit either, I’m not going to quit giving people the benefit of the doubt, I’m not going to quit being me, even if I can be overly optimistic and occasionally gullible and something of a stubborn, tactless, somewhat arrogant stinkbrain from time to time.
This is who I am. This is who I choose to be.
Take it or leave it.