You may remember my friend James, owner of The Two-Headed Giant, from my last article on creating an inclusive playgroup. You may also remember that we were successful in starting a healthy and inclusive P4D/LPS chapter in the shop using our combined super-powers of being aggressively friendly/persistent, and free coffee. We also consistently shut down negative, destructive, and inappropriate language and behavior by following the platinum rule to which we held every patron; namely, ‘don’t be s*^tty’.
No, that’s not ‘don’t be Scotty’- these are the expletives you are looking for.
A lot of behavior can fall under the platinum rule, but for us it was specifically reflective of any behavior that would reflect badly on the character of the shop. This doesn’t mean we jumped the case of anyone who dropped an f-bomb (we dropped a few ourselves) or had words with anyone who made a snarky comment, but we did maintain vigilance against anything that made other patrons or ourselves uneasy. We also took the LPS/P4D mission statement very seriously, and made a point of calling out derogatory language (using the word gay as a slur, making derogatory comments about women, etc).
Now that’s easy for me to say and do, I’m a teacher (and an extrovert) so I am monitoring and correcting behavior all the time. How can I possibly expect you to comfortable doing the same in your shop or chapter? Calling people out is scary and uncomfortable, could easily be taken too far, and could end in shouting or table flipping or all sorts of shenanigans… can’t it?
Well FEAR NOT! That’s exactly why I’m typing away at this article. You can do it, and while it may initially give you that little butterfly-flutter, I can promise you that it is both worth the momentary discomfort, and vital to your shop and chapter. Your example to others, establishing standards of behavior, and keeping your space positive and friendly is a major key to your group’s success. Here’s how.
1) The language of ‘We’
There’s a game of Boss Monster going on at the table next to you. Someone laughs as a Boss levels up, and says “damn, that monster is so gay!” You feel a subtle flinch from the person across the table from you; the time to act is now. You screw your courage to the sticking place, and tap the gay-sayer on the shoulder. They turn, still laughing, and your mouth goes dry.
A lot of the anxiety and difficulty people experience when confronting unwanted behavior in others comes from feeling alone, of putting themselves at personal risk. The best way to alleviate these concerns is to use language that indicates group consensus, or ‘we’ speak. Instead of standing up and saying ‘Please don’t use the word ‘gay’, it’s not okay’, modify the sentence to include others. For example “Hello! We’re working on making this store an inclusive safe space, so we don’t use ‘gay’ as a slur here. We just wanted to let you know for the future, thank you!”
Cheesy? A little..but it works. And it gets a lot less cheesy after you do it a few times and it becomes a genuinely natural way of speaking for you. By saying ‘we’, the speaker sub-textually includes everyone else in the space, as well as the person being addressed. It implies a behavior code backed by group consensus, even though there is only one person speaking, and includes the person being addressed as part of the group; in this way, the addressee is not made to feel singled out or excluded, and the speaker is not putting themselves as an individual at risk for reprisal.
2) Have my back, ‘bro
When truly troubling situations arise, such as particularly objectionable comments or a consistent unwanted behavior, LPS/P4D members as well as shop staff should support each other through proximity and reinforcement. If you see someone standing up for your rules, physically move to be near them. Be persistent in asking for unwanted behavior to change. In a gentle and friendly manner remind everyone of the culture you’re trying to create in the shop or the chapter, and above all be patient. In general, it takes eight repetitions for a person to create a habit; it takes at least a month to change one. I’m thinking in particular of a young man who had a tendency to swear almost every other word. Again, while swearing is tolerated a the THG, this was excessive. It took a few weeks of friendly reminders from everyone, but eventually the habit dissipated, and now he is the one asking new members to watch their language. Did I laugh? Oh yeah. But really happy laughter.
3) Call in the big guns
The most important support comes from the shop owners and staff. Without their backing, the most you can do is continue to politely request change. But if the staff and the owners are on board with the platinum rule, they can be a true ally in helping to affect shop culture. Either way, these are the people to turn to if altercations get significantly out of hand; if situations become angry, violent, or insults/slurs become harassment. Most stores have anti-harassment policies or protocols for when things get out of hand, but some may not. Just as important, Magic has very clear rules about respectful behaviour in both regular and competitive events: judges and tournament organizers alike have not only the right but an obligation to call out or even throw out players for bad behaviour.
Bottom line, talk to your owners and staff about what to do if a tense situation arises, or under what circumstances you will want/need their help in dealing with a patron. Clear communication is imperative!
4) Make and Keep Your Cool
Always, always always always, no matter what gets said or done, be polite, calm, and respectful. This is not a war, you are not the Vikings of Social Justice; you are a group of people trying to make a positive change in a subculture, and that requires patience. LPS/P4D members and especially leaders should set the example of the culture they want for everyone. If you get called a name, get sworn at, gestured at, mocked, etc, it is imperative that you are the one who is calm, collected, polite, respectful, and positive. You don’t break the rules, you try to make the rules by obeying them yourself, in all circumstances.
5) Keep it simple- and pick your battles
Sometimes, the moment just isn’t right to deal with a particular problem. If you’ve recently had a blow up about a sexist comment and everyone is still tense about it, that’s not the time to get on a soapbox about not using ‘man-lands’ as a descriptor for creature lands. Remember that change takes time and patience, habits are hard to break, and people may say things offhand without thinking that are mildly offensive. Don’t jump down their throats swinging the righteous sword of political correctness (not Vikings, remember?) but pull them aside quietly and individually when you have a moment, and just mention that the comment might make people uncomfortable. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a sheepish apology. Open dialogue, don’t shut it down.
This example comes from my friend Trevor;
“I am thinking of a guy who used to use derogatory terms for women and gay people on a regular basis. One time, when I played Thragtusk and he responded by saying “Thragtusk, fagtusk” all I needed to say was “that’s not cool” Most people aren’t looking to be malicious but are just pursuing misguided attempts to be clever. Letting them know that the result is the opposite of that can be very effective. In this case, the player is now a regular at LPS/P4D events and has eliminated his bad habit of derogatory language.”
At the end of the day, be friendly. Be forgiving. Be patient and kind. People will see and respect the difference you are trying to make.
And whatever you do, don’t be sh*tty. Everything else will follow.