Saying “Do” Instead of “Don’t”

I’m reading a book called “Nonviolent Communication” right now (more on the book later), and one of the author’s recommendations is to ask for what you do want people to do, describing specific actions they can take, rather than asking people not to do things or being vague. I’ve observed that in social justice circles, there seems to be a lot more focus on telling people what not to do than telling them what to do. Actually, I see a lot of articles along the lines of “we know it’s hard to always be told what not to do, so here’s a list of things you can do” … where most of the “do’s” end up being “don’ts” in disguise! I can understand it–a lot of the time in social justice it seems the issue is that people in positions of privilege are doing some harmful thing that we’d like them to stop, like using slurs or acting violently, and there doesn’t seem to really be a corresponding “do”. But I also feel like it tends to be seen as safer to condemn X than promote Y, since if people later examine the thing you’re talking about and find additional problematic implications, it’s safer not to have endorsed any particular course of action. And I think that attitude in particular holds back progress. (Of course, here I am, saying that you shouldn’t make people feel unsafe endorsing courses of action. Whoops.)


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