Putting my hand up on failure

This is going to be a brief post. I’ve been putting off writing it until I have lots of time, which means it never happens. I’ve just finished writing about four pages of C# in Depth this evening (which is good going), and I’m now waiting for my wife to text me that she’s ready to be picked up from her book club. So, I might as well put that time to good use.

When I was a schoolboy, I was in various choirs. One of those was particularly good, and it had a different way of rehearsing pieces to the other choirs. We did very little “note bashing” but instead spent more time on dynamics and listening to each other. As such, wrong notes were relatively few and far between, but of course they had to be addressed. There was no problem in terms of blame, but the conductor wanted to know which sections he needed to go back to. So when we got something wrong and realized it, we simply put a hand up for a second or so, the conductor would notice, and we’d keep going. If we didn’t put our hand up, he’d know that we were unaware of our mistake and the section needed more work. As well as that practical benefit, it meant that we were watching ourselves more carefully, concentrating harder, and generally singing better. Importantly, there was no blame attached – putting your hand up was never seen as something to avoid.

My journey as a novice feminist feels a little like that experience, and I’m consciously trying to emulate it. I take enormous comfort from the wonderful “10 ways to be a better male feminist” by
Aaminah Khan. She writes (in point 10):

You will probably be taken down a peg or two when you mess up. (Don’t worry, we all mess up, and we all eat crow afterwards. It’s fine, the internet has a pretty short memory.)

Yep, that’s happened. Fortunately it’s always been polite so far (presumably because I’ve been polite to start with, and I hope my good intentions are obvious) but I’ve definitely written without enough consideration of how I express my ideas – which has occasionally revealed how far I’ve still got to go.

Sometimes it hasn’t been a matter of me explicitly messing up, but instead reading articles about problematic attitudes where I reluctantly recognise myself. (Relatively mild one: Hadley Freeman‘s article about women’s motivation for fashion/make-up. I have a theory about why many men make assumptions there, but I don’t think it’s worth me writing it up.)

It’s easy to compose a mental rebuke and try to come out the moral victor, but I’ve found that doesn’t feel as good as it sounds. I’m trying to learn to put my hand up instead – whether that’s actually out loud on the internet, or just to myself – and see where I can improve.

The idea of blame-free introspection is far from new of course – I’m really not trying to claim any credit here. But I’ve found it surprisingly liberating. I’m free to be openly imperfect, but I still have to try to improve. This doesn’t mean blindly accepting every criticism that comes my way – the whole point is to put conscious care into what I do… but a much larger proportion of criticism is reasonable than I’d probably have thought before.

On that note, time to call it a night… so thank you again to everyone who nudges me (knowingly or not) to hopefully become a better person.

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Mad props to @arcaderage for the "Princess Rescue" image - see https://toggl.com/programming-princess for the full original

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