Safety Agreements & Self Exclusion: A Non-Coercive Alternative to Cancelling
Originally Published on December 15th
If a person does actual harm (vs something I don’t like or disagree with), is asked to be accountable, and remain committed to their violence, then they *exclude themselves* from a safe relationship with me. If a person who causes harm is willing to account, repair, and transform, then I’m open to the possibility of reconnection to myself and/or to our shared community.
It is my responsibility to keep myself safe, so I don't relate with people unwilling to make themselves safe to be with. If someone is unsafe on IG, then I unfollow or block them. If a public figure is proven to be an unrepentant abuser or otherwise unsafe (I consider JK Rowling unsafe), then I no longer engage with their work. I don’t trash anyone (I go with facts over assumptions & judgments). I don’t make demands. I don’t judge and harass people who associate with harm doers. Because those are coercive actions that make me unsafe to be with. My other responsibility regarding safety is making me safe to be with.
We can’t make other people safe to be with. We can ask for safety agreements, but if they are unwilling to agree to safety, then it is our responsibility to make ourselves safe. Online we have the power to unfollow and block people or shut down our devices, no one forces us to remain in unsafe situations. If we continue to relate to an unsafe person, then we’re accountable for compromising our own safety (this does not apply to extreme situations like stalking or doxing where we may be unable to make ourselves safe).
An example of how self-exclusion applies to community - in 5 years of producing radically inclusive, sex positive events we had one exclusion, a man who threatened someone at an event and then told us he believed it was appropriate to manage conflict through threats and violence. We asked him to abide by our community agreement around non-violence and he said no. He refused to make himself safe to be with, so he excluded himself. If he had ever come back willing to transform, we would have worked to reintegrate him.
The Alive program proposes that agreements are the currency of healthy relating. Safety agreements give us a map for working through conflict. When we have agreements, addressing conflict and harm isn’t personal, it’s about the agreements. If a person refuses to honor the agreements, they choose to no longer relate safely. They aren’t canceled, they make a sovereign choice not to participate in safe relationship.
How would I apply this to online communication where we don’t have safety agreements (other than TOS)? We can’t force safety on other people’s spaces, but we can create safety agreements for our own spaces - our social media accounts, our FB groups, our blog comments, etc. - and regularly let people know that by relating to us in our space they agree to our terms for safety or they self exclude. I recently saw a person do this by expressing that they don’t consent to certain behaviors in their space. Then exclusion isn’t about a person, it’s about a violation of consent.
There are always going to be people committed to their violence, both systemically and interpersonally. Call them out and try to cancel them all you want, many will cling to their beliefs and find community to support them. We may never make the whole nation or world safe because some humans like to imagine themselves superior and violate others. And some people are simply unwilling to be accountable and transform because it’s too painful (we need to be real about how hard transformation can be).
I think our real power lies in making ourselves safe and safe to be with. We can normalize safety agreements and non-violent communication in our families, communities, and workplaces. We can organize for legal protections that make our cities/states/countries safer. And we can put our imagination and efforts into creating safety/equity/consent culture and show people that something else is possible. I believe offering real alternatives to supremacy culture is the most effective tool we have for cultural transformation. Next week I will share ideas for safety agreements.