“It wasn’t that bad.” I said those words frequently. I meant them honestly.
I have heard so many people say that phrase. And while the light was starting to come on for me on my “Rocky Road to Self-Awareness“, it crashed into me during an interview with a soldier in early April when they were sharing with me a story of inappropriate and harmful behaviour.
The soldier said, “It wasn’t that bad, nothing physically happened.”
It was a gut punch. I could have cried for having felt like such a failure, for having said that phrase far too many times in the past. It allowed things to stay the same. To have my words parroted back at me by someone 20 years my junior showed me just what I taught people anytime I said it myself. As much as I feel like I may have lacked the personal power to speak up when I was one of the early pioneers of women in the combat arms, that’s a bullshit excuse to which I will no longer allow myself to subscribe. Because guess what? That excuse won’t ever go away. When does a victim or a more junior person ever feel like they have power?
Why did I ever think that “not that bad” was the standard we were trying to achieve? “Not that bad” is a bar set too low folks. We can do better, we must do better.
My advice to anyone when they hear someone describing a situation of behaviour especially, and the situation is qualified with, “It wasn’t that bad,” is to treat it like a stoppage on a weapon. Your immediate action ought to be the equivalent of canting your weapon to the left to investigate the position of the bolt. Dig a little deeper into that situation, investigate it more. Because if something wasn’t that bad, it also wasn’t that good. Perhaps a better question is whether it was acceptable, or unacceptable. Thinking in those binary terms removes the middle ground of “not that bad,” middle ground that is code for unacceptable behaviour in far too many instances.
Let’s raise the bar, collectively. Demand it of each other.