Speaking for Others

Published: 04/04/21

It was recently brought to my attention that I was speaking for somebody in my life by telling another group of people how that person felt without them saying it themselves. This helped me realise that it’s important to not speak for someone else’s experience.

This in turn got me thinking about the larger idea of people speaking for groups they’re not a part of.

Although this is certainly more impactful and important to consider when talking about minority groups, the specific group is not what matters here. It could be women, men, black people, white people, roller-skate enthusiasts, stamp collectors, artists, vegans or candlestick makers.

If you are not part of a specific group, you cannot speak for the experiences of that group.

Noah Brand sums it up nicely in this article:

“An awful lot of bad actions come from this basic assumption: that one’s own experience means one can speak for people with different experiences.”

He gives some good examples of these things happening in the world:

  • Non-depressed people saying anyone depressed just need to “snap out of it”
  • Men saying that they don’t see how women experience any disadvantages in the world
  • Multimillionaires explaining how the only reason people are poor is because they lack good character

If we haven’t experienced something in the world, it’s very easy to assume that it doesn’t happen, but it’s important that we learn to recognise this fallacy, because it will help us become more compassionate and caring towards other humans.

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