I recently saw a meme on social media that said something like “note to everyone over the age of 37, you no longer need a double space after a period, we aren’t using typewriters anymore”. I laughed to myself because I am definitely over 37 and that was how I learned to type. Then popped a memory of an email exchange I had with someone that I wrote an article for a couple years ago. She said everything looked good, but was just going to edit out the double spaces. I honestly had no idea that that wasn’t how you were supposed to type anymore! I made a joke about it and said that I was going to try to get out of the habit, but I bet it will take me some time and be kinda hard. (Spoiler alert: I rarely use double spaces anymore, I mean I absolutely make mistakes, but not as often as I used to).
This isn’t really about the actual meme, about double spaces or single spaces. What got my attention and me thinking was all of the comments below the meme. Things like, “nope, I’ll always do it that way, that’s how I learned” and “sorry, it’s ingrained in my brain to do it that way” and “I’ll never change”. It sounded so much like “this is how I was raised” or “I did it this way and I’m fine” etc. Things I hear people say as an excuse when they are uncomfortable with something or don’t understand something. A way to not think past their own experiences. This is what I hear when people are presented with a different way to parent their kids, a different way to train their dogs (I used to be a dog trainer, I heard these things all the time) or a different way to exist and be in the world rather it be as a different gender or relationship type or something else. I hear it a lot when it comes to changing our language and replacing terms or words that we have been told are harmful to folks in communities we may not be a part of. Usually these are antiquated words and terms.
Why is this? Why do we push back against doing things differently? Especially when folks are saying that we’re doing harm to someone (I know there is no one being hurt if you use two spaces instead of one). Is it because we think someone is saying we’re wrong and our feelings are hurt? Is it some stubborn ego thing? I know what the larger picture answer is: it’s white supremacy, but I’m talking more on an individual level here.
I can remember many times I was presented things that flew in the face of what I had been doing all along. When I first started training dogs, I used a choke and a pinch collar. As I continued my education, I was presented with the facts that there were better ways to train a dog that didn’t have the side effects of punishment based training. The techniques “worked” but I was hurting the dog, even though that’s what many people before me had done and many people still did (and do). I even remember a few years after I had ditched those techniques, someone I had worked with early on in my career came back to me with a new dog and even after I showed them what I was doing now, they told me that they were going to use the pinch collar because that’s how I taught them with their first dog…? What? No, I had grown and learned and I was telling them a better way but their answer was “this is what I’ve always done”.
Another time was when I stopped using the R word (once used for people with an intellectual disability) as a “playful” dis to someone being annoying or goofy. A friend of mine with a brother with Down’s Syndrome had recently explained to me how hurtful and angry it made her when people used that word in that way. After hearing that, I made it a point to try and stop using that word, because I had been using it for years and I didn’t know the harm I was doing. Shortly after I was around someone who used the word that way. When this person used the word, I explained what I had learned and that although the habit might be hard to break, I was really trying not to use it. This person’s response was, “why does it matter if they’re not around?” With that logic, is it then okay to disrespect anyone as long as they’re not around? Not to mention that, if you don’t get out of the habit of using that word, you’re very likely to mess up when someone is around who will be hurt by it.
Here are two other examples I can share: One was that a close friend’s child, whom I saw grow up, came out as transgender. I saw this person for years one way but when he told me that his pronouns were he and him, I made it a point to change my language because I loved him and doing otherwise would have brought him harm. I messed up many times because it was a habit but I just kept trying and now I have changed my language fully.
The second example of changing language has been since I became a yoga teacher. I was taught in my yoga teacher training and had heard in all my yoga classes the term “Namaste” at the end of class. That is how I ended my class for a long time. I also would often site the play on words, you know the “nama-stay in bed” stuff? I then took continued education about the roots of yoga taught by yoga practitioners from South Asia who explained that “Namaste” is a greeting, not a goodbye. They explained how I could differently end my classes in order to honor the actual roots of this ancient practice of yoga, instead of doing what I was taught by my frankly white, western teachers. They also explained that it was a sacred word, so I needed to be careful of how I used it. Did I have to change it? I guess not but once I had the information, not changing it was doing knowledgeable harm (I think of this as a form of Ahimsa for those other yoga practitioners out there).
So, in conclusion, I do not give a shit if you use one space or two. Actually, don’t look at this blog post too hard, I probably mistakenly added some double spaces because it is hard to change a habit but not impossible. What I’m saying is that maybe it is good to question and challenge something we’ve always done. Maybe we could let go of an old habit. Is holding on to something because we don’t want to be wrong or told what to do or because it’s uncomfortable, causing someone else harm? All I can say is I’m going to keep trying no matter how hard it is and how many times I keep messing up. I mean, this stuff is hard, there’s no denying that but our brains are so cool and are brilliantly malleable. I bet we can do it in the name of harm reduction and empathy.