I remember the first time I heard someone say “it’s not my job to educate you!” I was filled with disbelief. I mean, if you believe in something and you’re trying to create change, it’s your job to educate the world. Why would you pass up that opportunity? Even if you don’t change the other person’s mind, at least you’ve planted the seeds of your ideas, your reasoning, and especially your values.
I also remember the first time I watched a friend – who not coincidentally was a woman – spend a good hour trying to explain something (feminism, if I recall correctly, but it could have been anything) to someone else – who not coincidentally was a man. Every point she made was rejected with whataboutisms. Every bit of evidence was rejected with demands for sources. Every source was rejected as inadequate or biased. When my friend had finally had enough, the guy said “well, I was hoping you could educate me.”
Then I got it. The guy had no interest in learning anything. He was playing a game, building up his ego by telling himself he won a “debate” that wasn’t advertised as a debate, and in any case where he kept changing the rules. He wasn’t trying to get educated – he was just being a troll. My friend was right to cut him off, and I completely understand why she would be hesitant the next time someone asked to be “educated.”
But still, the phrase “it’s not my job to educate you” doesn’t sit well with me.
I’m a straight, white, cis man. I get a small fraction of the harassment my LGBTQ, POC, and especially women and non-binary colleagues get. It is neither my place nor my intent to tell any of them how they should respond to requests for information and education.
In this post I speak only for myself. This is what I do, and what I don’t do, and why. I hope you’ll give it some thought.
No one owes you their time and expertise
This should be obvious, but often it isn’t. The internet has created a sense of familiarity with no correspondence in the offline world. Facebook friends can be real friends – something we learned well over the past year or so – but just because someone accepted your request doesn’t mean they owe you anything. Just because someone promotes a religion or a culture or a political position in public doesn’t mean they’re up for a public debate, particularly one on your terms.
And even people who are generally helpful have the right to set their own boundaries as to who can contact them, how they can be contacted, and for what reasons.
Helping other people learn and grow is one of my core missions in life. I take pride in educating people. Even if I don’t change their minds, if they walk away understanding why a reasonable and well-educated person believes in many Gods, in the sacredness of Nature, and in our collective responsibilities to each other, then I’ve done my job.
But I have limits.
Google is your first reference
“Google it!” is another phrase that doesn’t sit well with me. The internet is full of information, but not all of it is reliable, and not all of it is easy to find.
Still, I get annoyed when someone sends me a PM with a question that could have been answered on the first page of Google.
In any context, education is a two-way street. Your education is ultimately your responsibility. If the answer you need is available quickly and easily on Google, it’s easier for everyone if you just Google it… and it’s faster for you.
I answer questions on my terms
Still, there are times when Google doesn’t have the answer… or at least, it doesn’t have the answer you need. I do my best to answer brief, specific questions on matters where I have some expertise, especially religious questions.
But those are my terms: the questions should be brief and specific – something I can answer in 5 minutes off the top of my head. I can’t explain modern Druidry to you in Facebook Messenger – the subject is far too large for that. I can recommend a few books and a couple of Druid orders – what you do after that is up to you.
If your question is too big for a quick answer but it’s something of general interest, I may write a blog post on it. I’m always looking for writing prompts. If it’s not suitable for a blog post I’ll do my best to point you in a helpful direction – if I can.
But if none of that works, I probably can’t help you.
I rarely debate
If you have evidence that my beliefs are in error, I want to see it. I want to investigate it, examine it, and contemplate it. I am not so arrogant as to think I have all the answers. If I’m wrong, I want to figure that out so I can be right, not double down on an erroneous belief so I can pretend I was right all along.
But if you’re arguing from the standpoint of another religion, I’ve probably already heard your argument and rejected it. If you’re arguing from the standpoint of another political orientation, we probably have such different ways of seeing the world that your viewpoint is as irrelevant to me as mine is to you.
I’ll be happy to engage in a respectful exchange of information and viewpoints, for the purpose of mutual education (up to a point, anyway – I have work to do). But the moment you begin name calling, personal attacks, and conspiracy theories, I’m done.
I’m patient with seekers – I have no time for trolls
Sometimes one question and answer leads to another, and another, and another. As long as I have time, and as long as I feel like the questions are genuine, I’ll do my best to keep answering. If someone really wants to learn, I really want to help them.
The moment I get a whiff of sea lioning, whataboutism, or any other form of trolling, I’m gone. I’m happy to be a teacher, within my limits. I’m not here for anyone’s juvenile entertainment.
If you want personal instruction, expect to pay for it
I once had someone ask me “will you come to my house and teach Paganism to my family?” I still don’t know for sure, but I think they were serious. The answer to that question is “no” for many reasons, not the least of which is that my time is limited and time I spend teaching anyone one-on-one is time I can’t spend working at my paying job, writing, creating classes, or watching old movies and sipping whiskey.
I’m not shy about asking my Pagan colleagues questions when I think they may know something I can’t find anywhere else. But they’re questions I’m pretty sure can be answered quickly and easily, without any real work on their part. If it’s something where they’re going to have to do 30 minutes of research, then I expect to pay them.
At some point, if questions keep coming – and especially if they’re personal and specific to the individual – it becomes clear the person doesn’t need a reference. They need a spiritual director. If you’re interested in those kind of services, I’ll be happy to send you my rates. If you want to commit to a multi-session arrangement, I offer long-term discounts. But I’m not going to be anyone’s personal teacher for free – and you shouldn’t expect that from anyone else either (some traditions do that, but they assume you’re going to be part of their community – part of their family. If you aren’t willing to make that sort of commitment to them, they’re not going to make it to you).
Venting is not a teaching occasion
I rarely experience the kind of injustice and oppression some of my friends do. And still, there are things in this world that make me irate – sometimes because they happen to me, and sometimes because they happen to anyone.
Asking someone to explain why they’re upset in the moment is not a kind thing to do. Questioning the legitimacy of their anger is at best insensitive and can be cruel – particularly if it’s due to systemic injustice that you yourself never have to face.
And denying the existence of systemic injustice – particularly when you’ve just been shown an example? That makes you a troll of the worst sort.
It’s not my job to entertain trolls
As I said in the beginning, it’s neither my place nor my intent to tell anyone that they must educate anyone else. You do what’s best for you. As for me, I’ve freely taken on the obligation of teaching, but only for those who sincerely want to learn, and those who are respectful of me and my boundaries.
I never use the phrase “it’s not my job to educate you.” I’ve written 13 years’ worth of blog posts that are available for free. I’ve written two books that are available at reasonable prices. I’ve got online classes, YouTube videos, and a weekly newsletter. You want education? I’ve got plenty.
When people make it clear they’re only interested in harassing people who are different – especially those who are fighting against injustice – I do my best to let them know I see through them. I’m not fond of name calling, but if it whines like a troll and moves the goalposts like a troll and disrespects people and their time like a troll, it probably is a troll.
It’s my job to educate those who want to learn. It’s not my job to entertain trolls.