Love Letters to Humans (no. 71) — on Contempt

Some of us are so committed to meeting other people’s expectations we’ll give folks whatever fucked up thing they want. You do not owe someone the contempt they came to you for.

Contempt is a disregard for what is so, particularly—in our relationships—the sovereignty, wholeness, power, capability, knowing, wisdom, or innate worth of another person… or ourselves.

What does it mean to seek contempt? (That just sounds weird, right? …And it’s not weird at all if you’re avoiding responsibility.) We seek contempt when we want someone else to disregard our sovereignty, wholeness, power, capability, knowing, and wisdom so that we can pretend we are not responsible for our decisions.

Seeking contempt is one way we hand over power and double down on emotional dependence. It’s a set up for manipulation, passive-aggression, people-pleasing, chasing, codependency, irreconcilable conflict, and potential abuse.

You don’t have to read people’s minds, even the people you love. You don’t have to guess what is safe, enjoyable, or appropriate for someone else. You are not required to “just know” what someone else wants or expects. You don’t have to (and can’t) fix other people’s uncomfortable feelings for them.

You are allowed to ask what someone else wants, needs, and expects (and then make decisions based on your desires, capacities, and commitments). You are allowed to refuse to guess what other people want. (This is part of going after consent.) Not reading someone’s mind, not guessing, or refusing to accept responsibility for “just knowing” doesn’t mean you don’t care about them; it means you’re staying in your lane. Asking—and listening—is a way of claiming responsibility for what is ours, and holding others sovereign, whole, capable, and responsible for what is theirs.