How to Properly Educate and Correct Others.

As lot of us who understand the importance of proper body modification know, it is incredibly frustrating when we see others performing our beloved traditions incorrectly or improperly, or spreading incorrect or even harmful information. We want to fix them, correct them, educate them, and sometimes even reach out and strangle them in our fury! While I understand this reaction, it is far from the most effective one. So, how can one properly educate others in our body mod ways?

The first important note is to try to never come off as condescending. No one likes to be talked down to, to be talked to as if they are stupid, and if you use a tone like that when talking to others, you’ve already lost them. You don’t want to come off as a stuck up know-it-all, and trust me, I’ve been called that more times than I care to remember just trying to do exactly what I’m explaining here. Besides, I can pretty much guarantee that you don’t know it all, no one does, and you are no exception. Just because you know more about something than someone else doesn’t give you the right to hold that knowledge or information over them. Try to remember what it was like when you were learning, how you would have wanted someone to educate you or give you information, how you would have wanted someone to answer your questions. Try to be the mentor you didn’t have, or if you had a good mentor, try to do for others what they did for you. Pay it forward, is the term, I think. That tends to be much more effective.

For those asking the questions, please remember that these people are trying to help you with the question you ASKED THEM. Yes, they do need to be nice to you, but there is a difference between telling you the truth and what you need to hear, and being mean and telling you what you don’t want to hear. If you are doing something wrong and you are told it’s wrong, don’t get defensive. It could just be an innocent mistake, you could have taken the advice of someone you thought you could trust and they ended up being wrong. This is not a bad thing, really, this is not a reflection of your personal character, your intelligence level or anything like that. You have to listen to what people are telling you and take that information to heart. Ask more questions if you have them, or ask for clarification or explanation. There is nothing wrong with being honestly, innocently ignorant. Ignorance simply means you don’t know any better because you weren’t shown or weren’t taught or weren’t educated any better. We are all ignorant about something. Being willfully ignorant, meaning you choose to not be educated and corrected no matter what, is a problem.

Through text this can be more difficult to avoid, since everyone reads in a different “voice” in their head. The best you can do is try to sound as neutral as possible, almost like a text book. State facts as clearly and as objectively as you can. Provide links or sources that support your stance, and always remember your word choice. You can portray some emotion and intention via text based on the words you choose. Grammar is another important aspect of portraying emotion and information properly in text, you must have good writing skills if you want people to actually listen to you and take you seriously. Imagine reading this blog and suddenly I said something like “don b cleanin yo percings wif alcohol. Das bad! Or do it if ya want 2, I dun care lol!” Would you give my advice the same respect if I used that sort of LolCat chat speak rather than proper English? I seriously doubt it. Ending a potentially mean or condescending comment with “lol”, “jk”, or a smiley emoticon will not negate the potential meanness that was in the post, it just makes it sound even more arrogant.

Also understand that some people are trying to learn on their own, and are only going on the very limited resources they may have available to them. The internet is not this gold mine of information like we seem to think it is, at least in the subject of body modification. A lot of the information out there is misinformed, underinformed, or even outright wrong or harmful, as I’m sure we’ve all encountered. So just because someone is wrong doesn’t mean you can jump on them. Say something like “That’s not entirely true, but I understand why you may think that. In actuality, it’s better if you do this instead for these good reasons.” Something like “Ugh, you’re so totally WRONG. Gawd, you must be stupider than I thought!” won’t win you any respect or arguments, it will just make people deaf to you and they’ll never listen to you at that point.

One of my favorite ways to correct people is to do it indirectly. So you’re not correcting them, or telling them they’re wrong, you’re just basically ignoring the fact that they said something wrong and correcting them by using the proper terms in your answer. So when people say to me “I love your gauges! What gauge are your gauges?!” I say simply “Oh, I wear 8 millimeter plugs in my stretched earlobes.” Most don’t even notice the change, but somewhere in their brain it registers. When I hear something like “Sweet tats!” I’ll say “Oh, thank you. I enjoy my tattoos. While the process of getting tattooed is never fun, the end result of a beautiful tattoo is worth it.” See how that works? It’s not rude, it’s not condescending, it’s just answering their question or comment directly, and with proper terms and language.

Or if I’m in a negative or bad mood and am feeling particularly snarky, which happens more than I’d like it to, I respond to the “gauges” comment with a skeptical look and say something like: “I don’t remember every driving you around. How do you know what kind of gauges I have? Oh, you mean my plugs in my stretched earlobes? Yeah, I like them, too, thanks!” or even “Meh, they’re standard stock gauges. Same as Dodge has been using for years. I would like to get some all black ones that light up in purple or red, though, that would be sweet staring at me from my dashboard. Oh, you mean my plugs in my stretched earlobes? Sorry, my mistake.” I would rather be snarky to people than outright mean or rude, but it can still happen. Snark can be funny and a lot of people laugh, if you use it properly. I do this mostly to people who are rude, or in passing, or people who talk to my back, or people I don’t plan on having an actual conversation with. I know the majority of them don’t mean anything by it, but when you’re trying to hold me up in the grocery check out line, when there is a line behind me, to “ask about my tats and gauges” I’m probably going to be snarky and just go on my way so as not to hold up other people behind me with my idle conversation with you. I am not snarky all the time, but sometimes, it just happens. I’m only human, same as everyone else.

When someone says to me “Sweet tats!” I’ll say “Tats?” Then I look over myself. “I’m not wearing any lace or tatting. What are you talking about? Oh, you mean my tattoos? Thanks, I like my tattoos as well. Thanks!” By the way, this is “tatting”, a technique to handcraft durable lace patterns, like to make doilies:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatting

Or if someone says “Gonna go get tatted up!” I’ll say “I wasn’t aware you could knit into yourself like that. Mind if I come along to see how this could be done? Oh, you mean you’re going to get tattooed, that’s totally different.” It’s kinda childish, I know, but it’s also pretty effective because most people will look at you strangely, grunt a “Huh?”, and then you explain the whole thing.

In my experience, a lot of people take everything I say too personally, or in the “stuck up know it all” context, no matter what I do. I am passionate about this subject and I do get carried away sometimes. But I try to make it clear I just want to see it done right, nothing I say is directed at them personally, their character, or their intelligence, I’m just sort of saying it to make sure it’s out there. But it’s sort of like if the subject were changed from body mods to something else, would people still react in the same way to being corrected? Probably not, they’d probably take the correction much better. Like if someone were on a backyard mechanic blog and someone told a poster they were doing something wrong, I bet the poster would take the information to heart, because it’s coming from the source of someone who knows. Why are body mods any different? Why disregard the information of someone who knows just because it’s the subject of body modification? There IS a right way and a wrong way to modify your body, just as there IS a right way and a wrong way to modify your car, so what’s the difference?

No one likes to be told they’re wrong, no matter your word choice or tone. Which is why I try to make an effort to never ever say “you’re wrong” in any sort of way, context, or tone. A good example is recently my boyfriend’s dad asked me what would be the best choice for getting his ears pierced.

“I just want the basic, standard ear lobe piercings. Can I just go to the mall and have them do it for me?” He asked. Knowing the only thing the local mall offers is gun piercings, I shook my head at him.

“Actually, guns are among the worst ways to get pierced. There is a shop here in town that pierces with sterile, single use needles that only employs professionals, and I can take you there if you want. Just let me know when you want to go.” From there we had a 2 hour conversation about piercing. I told him why guns were so bad and why needles were better. I told him why the studs in guns were so bad and why the flatback labret studs he’d get from the professional were much better. He wanted to wear rings initially and I told him why that’s not the best idea and why studs are better. I told him about all of the misconceptions and misinformation that gun piercers spout, and why they say those things and why it’s bad. I told him about sanitation and sterilization, and the difference between the two. I may have been a little harsh at some points, but he also knows my passion for this art form, and I did give him the disclaimer early on “I can sometimes sound angry when I talk about this, but I assure you it’s not anger. It’s just passion and love of the art.” And he fully understood, saying “I knew you were the person to talk to about this since you’ve done so much research and have so much experience in it. You wouldn’t tell me anything that wasn’t true and good for me.” He’s such a nice guy. It makes it better because we do have a really good relationship, we get along really well.

Now, if I had said these things to, say, my boyfriend’s sister, it would have been a very different story. She would not have taken the correction and information well, at all. She would have seen it as a personal attack on herself and her kids since they all had gun piercings, pierced themselves with a reloadable gun, and because she allowed them to do it and told them it was fine, she basically would have seen it as me attacking her intelligence and competence as a mother and it would have ended in a horrible argument. She also pierced clients with a reuseable gun while working as a hair dresser, and I’m sure she would have told me all about her sterilization methods with the alcohol wipes, etc. You can see where this is going.

If you’re trying to educate the world, you HAVE to set the standard. You cannot lower your standards for any reason, and then condemn others for those same standards you lowered yourself to. If you are an advocate against gun piercings, you cannot go out and get a random gun piercing, no matter if it’s free, if your friends talk you into it, it if was a special promotion, any sort of “better me than them, because I can take care of it and I know how bad it is” rationale, etc. That doesn’t mean anything. You just compromised your own personal ethics and standards by doing the exact same thing you’ve been advocating against. It’s like a vegan cannot eat a steak “to save someone else from having to eat it”, who then turns around and tells other meat-eaters how evil they are for perpetuating the meat industry, how unhealthy they are for eating meat, etc. It doesn’t make sense for a vegan to wear leather boots “because they were a free hand-me-down, and I can’t say no to that”, then turn around and throw a bucket of red paint on someone wearing fur-rimmed gloves or hoods. Would you take a vegan like that seriously? So why would you take a body mod activist seriously if they do exactly what they tell YOU not to do? That old adage of “Do as I say, not as I do” didn’t work when we were little kids, why should it work now?

You cannot get home-done or unprofessional tattoos if you fully support professionals and condemn scatchers. It doesn’t matter if they are your “apprentice friend”, or if you know the artist and the apprentice and “they have to practice on someone”. If your standards are so high that you will not allow someone who is not a professional to tattoo you, and knowing that an apprentice is technically not a professional yet, then you cannot allow that apprentice to tattoo you. At all. They can practice on someone else who doesn’t have your high standards. There is nothing wrong with having high standards, by the way, especially when it comes to something as permanent and potentially life-threatening as body modifications. You have to maintain your standards at a certain level, or not at all. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have those standards, right? You have to be the shining example, you have to be better than the rest, and you have to be the standard that you hold everyone else to. If you don’t do that, then you cannot condemn those others for making the same choices you do.

Another sort of education that is effective is the “shock and horror” type. I don’t recommend this sort of thing for first-timers, because it can easily be seen as an attack or if the recipient of the education has a delicate constitution or stomach, it can completely turn them off to any other education you might want to offer. It can also come across as aggressive and completely negative. So again, this is NOT the best course of action to take off the bat, but it can be effective sometimes on those who may be especially stubborn. Basically, it works like this: Say your friend wants to start stretching their ears. Your first response with the “shock and horror” technique would be to find the most awful, disgusting pictures of torn lobes, blown-out lobes, or infected lobes and caption the pictures with “If you don’t do it right, this CAN and probably WILL happen to you!” Many people will see these images and say “Oh no! I really don’t want that to happen! What can I do to avoid that?” and then you proceed to help them appropriately. A lot of others will see it as if you are making fun of the people in the pictures you post, and will see you as an elitist, stuck up, or that you think you’re better than they are. A very controversial blog using this very technique is “Awful Modifications” on Tumblr. If you would like to drop by and see what they’re all about, you can find it here: (can be not safe for work, or young viewers, or parents; gore, ickiness, blood, infections, etc. can and will follow) http://awfulmodifications.tumblr.com/

I, personally, am on the fence about their technique. While I understand what they are doing and find it effective, it frustrates me when others don’t understand it and then slam the entire blog itself. They say “Awful Mods is so stuck up! They’re always making fun of people! They think they know it all and everyone else is wrong! They’re such jerks!” That’s not true. Awful Mods does not address the people in the pictures, they address the CHOICES those people make. There are at least two professional modification artists among the moderators of Awful Modifications, so yes, a lot of their information is direct from professionals. In the past, they were much “meaner” about this technique, but they’ve made huge leaps and bounds in improving themselves and the blog, and they are to be commended for it.

The entire aim of Awful Mods is to say “These horrible things can happen to you if you choose to modify incorrectly. You will end up with bad tattoos if you choose to get tattooed in some scratchers basement. You will end up with ugly lobes if you stretch with random objects or wear tapers. I wish the people in these pictures had known better, because then these bad things wouldn’t have happened to them. And they won’t happen to you if you go to professionals for all of your modification needs!” Another point to remember that I stress a lot when people come down on Awful Mods, and I’m going to say this in all caps to really emphasize my point, is that: EVERY SINGLE IMAGE AND STORY POSTED TO AWFUL MODS HAS BEEN A SUBMISSION BY A FOLLOWER. AWFUL MODS MODERATORS DO NOT SEEK OUT IMAGES AND POST THEM. ANY TEXT ASSOCIATED WITH A PICTURE HAS BEEN SUBMITTED BY THE ORIGINAL SUBMITTER OF THE PICTURE. It is not fair to attack the Awful Mods moderators for things that are posted. If you want to be upset that your image, or the image of your friend was posted to Awful Mods, take it up with the person who sent in the image, not Awful Mods. All they do is click “submit” or “deny” on each image, and seeing as there are 6-7 different moderators of the blog, each one has a different idea of what “awful” is. So what’s awful for one may be passable to another.

Unfortunately, some people just refuse to be educated or corrected, or even helped. No matter what you do, what you say, how you say it, or how many respected sources you throw at them, they will always think you are wrong and they are right. Or that you are attacking them, or that you are stuck up and elitist and that you must have no life at all if you know this much about something that isn’t really all that important anyway. Can you tell when I repeat things that have been said to me before? Yeah, it happens a lot. But it makes it worthwhile when you find that one person who follows your advice and keeps coming back for more because it’s successful and helpful advice. If you can change the mind of just a few people at a time, it makes the negative responses fade away slowly over time. So just remember to give the sort of advice you’d like to receive, be the sort of mentor you wish you’d had when you just started learning, and try to remember what it was like when you were learning. You were once in the same position they are in now, so try to remember that feeling and do your best to educate properly and respectfully.

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