The other day one of my boys came to me in tears, crying that his sister had hit him with a toy sword. “I didn’t mean to,” she yelled. “It was an accident.” Knowing my kids, it was probably true, but it didn’t make the red spot on my son’s arm hurt any less. She still had to take responsibility for hurting him and apologize. A few minutes later everyone was playing happily again.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last couple of weeks, with all the chaos going on in YA Twitter. So much of it seems to start with one person, a reviewer or a fan saying, “you hurt me.” Because that is what an accusation of racism or sexism or ableism or homophobia is: a cry of pain and a warning to others.
But too often lately these critiques have been taken as attacks. And I get it. We authors pour our hearts and souls into our books, and critiques can feel like an attack on a part of us. And often (at least I hope) the offense isn’t meant. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Like with my daughter and her sword, lack of intention does not indicate a lack of pain.
If someone tells you your words or actions hurt them, believe them. Apologize for hurting them. (Not for them being offended.) If you can’t understand why they’re upset (and chances are you won’t or you wouldn’t have written it that way), Google it. Learn from it. And do better next time.
Because if I’d let my daughter call in her friends to say what a nice person she was and how my son was overreacting and just trying to get my daughter in trouble, then my son would have called in his brother to testify to all the times she’d hurt them in the past and…well, you can see how quickly these things get out of hand when no one wants to take responsibility for their actions.
So authors, please, if you get called out on something: apologize, learn, do better.
I only hope that if and when it happens to me (and it well might, because as much as I try and stay in my lane and do my research, I still learn new things about my privilege everyday, and I’m bound to make a very public mistake sooner or later) I have the sense to follow my own advice.