Call-outs can be your friend

[Image: Aikido master Gozo Shioda throwing a student]

One of my favorite quotes in the world is from Aikido master Gozo Shioda. When he was once asked “What is the most powerful move in Aikido?”, legend has it, Shioda answered, “To become friends with someone who has come to kill you.”

This is something I strive to live by each day, especially in regards to doing radical social restoration work online.

Online activist communities can be quite emotionally intense.

And I know my work can edge-y in my own field, going against the grain of what standard attitudes and practices look like in activist communities.

For example:

I’ve been called out more than once while openly expressing these viewpoints.

To be fair, I know I am a trickster, truth-speaker, what have you. It is how I am of service to the world. Because I explore discomfort. But it also makes my way of thinking triggering* to some people.

(*I need to add that triggering and harming are different things. Something that is often conflated in activist communities. Harm means what you did cause the direct emotional and physical distress that is being expressed. Triggering means what you did caused emotions from past experiences to come to the surface. Sometimes the first step to facing a call-out is to discern if you harmed or triggered. In this article, we are talking mostly about cases in which we have triggered not harmed. But of course, the line can be grey.)

As someone who gets called out a lot, one thing I have really focused on in the last year or so of my practice is learning to befriend call-outs, even ones that I think go too far into lateral violence and libel.

Yes, even though I think call-out culture is basically ableist and traumatizing, what is important to me is to find ways to become friends with it.

And the way to do that, for me, is to understand that call-outs are about the collective brain having a headache.

The goal isn’t to win the argument-  it’s to stop the headache.

So here are some basic steps I take when facing call-outs.

Step 1: Self-care

Monitor my nervous system and exercise self-care as first priority. In fact, this is ALWAYS my number one priority.

Step 2: Don’t collapse but do not cause harm

The beginning of a call-out can be confusing so I think it is best to go slow in taking in the information. This means holding ground but not causing harm. It definitely is a delicate balance of not collapsing emotionally and not lashing out. This is why nervous system regulation is so important.

Step 3: Change behavior and apologize

A lot of call-outs provide valuable feedback about behavior. They can offer great insights that we can integrate for our benefit. I try to actively apologize for behaviors I genuinely feel good about adjusting.

Step 4: Validate emotions but don’t condone behavior
If there are things that don’t feel right to me, I try to validate emotions without condoning behavior. A lot of the time people can do or say laterally violent things during a call-out because they are in a dysregulated state. I certainly don’t think I have to accept that behavior as being valid.

But I think it is highly situational whether I want to name these behaviors right way. The point is to win the war, not the battle. It may just be that self-care requires me to let things settle before I claim my voice.

I sometimes even acknowledge people’s feelings silently. Especially when someone is really upset with me and they are not responding to my validations.

This is OK to me. How I respond to call-outs are really are about my own integrity.

I would love for things to be fixed and dandy right away but the reality is that I am not in control of someone’s healing path. There is nothing I can do and it is coercive for me to try to control this.

(This is true even if I harmed them, rather than triggered them.)

If it looks like there is little possibility of the situation to immediately recover, I do some kind of ritual that honors the emotions of the people calling me out and also tend to my own hurts.

Step 5: Polarize and let go (redirect)

I accept call-outs as a path of growth.

They often happen when you are about to birth something new, whether it is a business or an article.

Call-outs put you at a crossroads of defining who you really want to be in relationship with. Especially if they involve a lot of people like they have for me.

Call-outs really show you who you can trust to see your wholeness. This the greatest benefit of being called-out.

In this stage, standing in your truth, including accepting your mistakes, naming harm, and speaking and honoring your own hurts likely means polarizing your audience and/or community. It will define who is with you and who is not. This letting go process might look like unfriending people on social media, or sending them letters of how you feel and why you are letting them go.

I try to remember that this is not only self-care but care or the people I have triggered.

This stage will likely come with grief and often can represent a low in the call-out cycle.

Step 6: Nurture the relationships that were resilient

Call-outs often free our time and energy to put into relationships with people that can hold our wholeness, warts and all.

I think this is a great time to slow down and show appreciation for those who have stuck by you, even if they didn’t always agree with all of your behavior.

It’s helpful to remember that these people are your spokespeople and best of friends and colleagues.

These are the people you want to keep growing with.

Are you a therapist, facilitator, organizer or healer called to a deeper exploration of subjects discussed in this post?

I provide coaching and consulting services for individual practitioners, enterprises, and organizations that are committed to intersectional cultural healing. You can find more information here.

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