Perhaps you’ve heard of Micro-Aggressions. They’re the steady drip-drip-drip of poison which gradually wears you down. “Where are you really from?” or “I can’t pronounce your name, can I call you Jo?” or “Your lot are good at running, right?” or “You’re clever, for a …”.
Individually, they are tiny pinpricks of discrimination. None of them large enough to be worth kicking up a fuss. Each one easy to dismiss as a faux-pas.
When I experience them it’s a painful reminder that some people think I don’t belong.
At a recent diversity workshop, I was introduced to the phrase “Micro-Incivilities”.
It was new to me – and to most attendees. It covers the same behaviour, but subtly shifts the emphasis to make the transgressor feel more comfortable.
As I understand it (and I’m no expert) the theory is this. Most people using micro-aggressions are not being aggressive. They’re not shouting at you, punching you, or dominating you. What they’re doing is the equivalent of rolling their eyes, talking over you, or ignoring you. They’re being rude.
If you criticise someone for being aggressive – so it was described – then they are likely to react negatively. Aggression is seen as a deliberate and severe way to cause harm.
But if you tell someone they were rude… Well… We’ve all been unintentionally rude, right? Being rude is unfortunate, but it isn’t show-stopping. We understand that if our behaviour is seen as rude, it’s up to us to modify it.
You can read more about the theory.
I have mixed feelings. I’m not sure that centring the needs of the transgressor is as important as acknowledging the pain of the victim. And incivilities sounds a little minimising.
But, if people are more likely to change their behaviour if they are told they are being rude… who am I to argue?
I suspect that, whatever the merits of the argument, the original phrase is here to stay.