On Standards

There’s many ways we are held, and hold ourselves accountable.

Standards are a generally understood way of upholding that accountability, the big question, is how do they get applied.

I could, and probably should talk about my own issues with setting standards for myself, and on the unconscious way I’ve tried to hold others to those standards. The latter generally being a bad idea, and the former generally being poorly executed.

Let’s talk for a second about professional standards, or even more broadly about standards in the workplace.

Any working environment is going to be a hodgepodge of standards to navigate, from basic things like safety and just general social nicety to more complex codes of conducts and professional liability and responsibility.

These aren’t inherently bad things, we all need to work in safe environments, we all need to get along. When accessing professional services we should expect a certain quality of work. Those are end goals and not the application of standards themselves.

Whether it’s rules based on principles based, the application of differing standards provides all kinds of potential for subjectivity. I’ve taken a long way to get here, but lets examine that for a second.

Is someone who is socially unpleasant at times more or less likely to break a safety rule? Not inherently those two things aren’t related. However if we find someone difficult to deal with or unpleasant in some way. We’re far more likely to associate their propensity to break social rules, with other rules. They may not be any more unsafe then the average person in the environment but you’re going to be more likely to notice or react to transgressions.

So, here’s where we get to the crux of the issue, what if, by the very nature of your existence. Considered socially uncomfortable. Even the most progressive minded and well intentioned folks are susceptible to biassed thinking and the isms and phobias.

So how do standards end up going from something that makes sense, a common set of guidelines to ensure professional, safe, effective work gets done. To a tool of oppression?

It goes back to that simple premise that someone who is a member of a social minority has already broken a social rule by existing in a space. Whether it’s a sense of discomfort that then makes you feel uncomfortable and therefore feel like the person has put you out by existing, all the way up to outward hate. Existing as someone who is a visible minority breaks the established rules of a space. Especially in hetero-normative, cis-normative, white-centric, ablest spaces. When the default for social conduct doesn’t include your existence then every further standard is that much more closely monitored.

It’s in part why the tropes around excellence exist, why you have to work x times harder to get y less distance. When you’ve already broken a social convention every other rule, standard, guideline, is that much easier to be considered cross.

The stress created is immense, It’s not enough to exist, because your existence works against you. You must thrive, you must succeed in spite of who you are.

Which is a standard of exhaustion for those on the wrong side of it.

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