People can Value Social Justice and Still Lack Emotional Intelligence

Sometimes I conflate passion for social justice and actual emotional intelligence. Take for example, a crush I had about three years ago on this attractive Asian man who went to an Ivy League school. He worked or volunteered supporting survivors of interpersonal violence, he could articulate the costs of racism and colonialism on people of color, and he said he valued empathy and compassion on his LinkedIn profile, which I may have read a dozen times. “Oh, my goodness,” I thought to myself while listening to Ariana Grande’s “Into You” in 2016, “this guy is like, the one. This is a hyperbolic re-rendering of my thought process at the time for dramatic effect but like, we’re totally going to date, get married, have two kids, and conform to heteronormativity in at least one other way, like buying a house with a white picket fence.”

But it turned out that this guy had not come out to his conservative Asian family yet, which bled into his inability to form a connection with me. I should have realized this earlier when I stalked his Goodreads wow ok, I am kind of a creep on the internet, at least I’m self-aware about it idk?? and noticed an odd lack of queer books. I thought that because this man amazed me with his activism and passion for social justice in some areas, that he would have basically every area of his life figured out, including his sexuality and his capacity for consistent communication. But he really had not dealt with his sexuality and perhaps his internalized homonegativity, nor was he able to communicate with me in any healthy or fulfilling way. So, I sent him a somewhat over the top message detailing the ways he hurt me, blocked him, and ranted to my therapist L about it, who laughed and congratulated me on finally breaking free from this man’s influence.

As I get older, I try to acknowledge that most people are not just good or bad but an amalgamation of qualities that lie somewhere in the middle. Someone can articulate the ways in which labor exploitation and capitalism harms people and not be able to articulate the ways in which their upbringing and trauma have influenced their interpersonal relationships. Someone can speak at length on the importance of considering intersectionality in social justice work and not treat their own graduate students or other students well. Some of my friends and I talk about people – especially cisgender men – who go into social justice work to actually avoid doing important internal work on themselves, reminiscent of the novel Guapa which I recently read and enjoyed. I’m trying to remind myself: if someone is good at having difficult conversations in a compassionate and assertive way, that someone is good at having difficult conversations in a compassionate and assertive way. If someone is able to form a healthy and consistent attachment to others, that someone is able to form a healthy and consistent attachment to others. While we stan men and people who work to tear down the cisheteronormative white supremacist patriarchy, tearing down oppression does not necessarily equate to self-awareness or treating people well in intimate relationships.

james baldwin quote ugh icon

This James Baldwin quote popped up on my Twitter feed this morning and I was just like, wow, James Baldwin really said that. This quote is honestly me @ people who say they align themselves with social justice causes and then literally replicate systems of oppression in their personal lives (myself included when I’m being a mess).

I also want to practice compassion for people in the process too, especially the man I reference above because I feel kinda bad about exposing him even though literally no one will be able to know who I’m referring to both because I was vague in my description and also multiple Asian men from Ivy League schools have harmed me in similar ways yikes on a bike tbh. Multiple factors may have influenced his level of self-awareness and how he communicated with me. Perhaps his family spewed some really homophobic sentiments that have or had delayed his journey in accepting his sexuality. Maybe he had internalized the model minority myth for Asian Americans and because of that prioritized achievements and accomplishments over learning how to communicate with others in a healthy way. Queer people of color experience unique barriers to accessing mental health care, after all. Heck, maybe I just freaked him out with my straightforward, assertive, and kinda intense style of communicating. And who knows, maybe now, three years later, he’s thriving, with a loving relationship with himself, his friends, family, perhaps a romantic partner, and a chihuahua named Otis. If that’s the case, I’d be happy for him.

I’m no exception to what I’ve written about this post. I’m keenly aware that I have a lot of growing to do. I want to practice the emotional labor and self-awareness to be the best friend and mentor possible. Some areas of my growth may include being a little more flexible and a little less rigid with my planning, as well as being more explicit about my expectations for my relationships with myself and with others. I want to be open to other people’s feedback on how I can improve, too.

In some ways I feel like these individual growths in self-awareness may not bring about the revolution. At the same time, I feel like there is something revolutionary about learning how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and others, especially in a patriarchal, capitalist society that devalues more traditionally “feminine” things like being caring and prioritizes wealth over connection. How do you cultivate self-awareness and healthy relationships with others? Share your strategies and your reactions to this post in the comments, because I’d love to know.

8 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

8 responses to “People can Value Social Justice and Still Lack Emotional Intelligence

  1. “As I get older, I try to acknowledge that most people are not just good or bad but an amalgamation of qualities that lie somewhere in the middle.” Brilliantly said Thomas, I think I am slowly in the process of learning such an acknowledgement. Also, I really relate to your stalking prowess and capacity for hyperbolic imaginings of the future, haha.

    I think poetry helps me cultivate self-awareness, and talking about my self-awareness with the ones I love. In terms of healthy relationships… Of course, communication, whether more “superficial” or “in-depth”, and honesty, which I suppose goes hand-in-hand.

    • Thank you Grace, your encouragement means a lot to me! Also I really do appreciate your validation of my stalking prowess and capacity for hyperbolic imaginings of the future, I mean what other skill sets can grow as a consequence of the ever-availability of the internet right??

      Yes, love all of what you include – poetry, talking about self-awareness, and communication. Hope you’re well and thanks for taking the time to stop by.

  2. Oh, Guapa sounds good reading, although is there violent content around the conflict / Arab spring theme? I think a reading list post is in order so we can learn from your reading! And yes, there have been several scandals here where people who are activists for social change in extreme-Left parties have turned out to be condoning what basically amounts to rape culture in their organisations https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jul/08/hugh-muir-diary-swp-rock (and obviously where there’s rape culture, there’s often racism and homophobia).

    • Good question re: Guapa! Most of the violence happens off-page or off-scene, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that (I’m pretty sensitive to gore and such). Oooh thanks for pointing out the scandals though it’s so sad and angering to hear about – really shows that people can advocate for progressive policies or ideas in one area and behave in awful ways in others.

  3. “Some of my friends and I talk about people – especially cisgender men – who go into social justice work to actually avoid doing important internal work on themselves, reminiscent of the novel Guapa which I recently read and enjoyed.”

    As a man, this sentence in particular really reminds me of why I think internal work on ourselves should be, in fact, a part of social justice work, especially for cisgender men.

    Thanks for the great post.

  4. I think different areas of our lives grow (or maybe even regress) at different rates. I think accepting and loving oneself is essential for our growth. It’s tough sometimes, we internalize what our family, friends, peers and our culture have pounded into our heads.

    • Yep, I can see what you mean about the growing and regressing – I think as someone who strives toward constant growth it’s hard to see that notion of regressing as something that can happen, but also sometimes the external world and social injustices create that path. I appreciate your note about accepting and loving oneself, which I would venture to say includes holding oneself accountable for the harm they do to others. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. (:

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