Typically narcissistic blogging.

On Being Switzerland

“I’m staying neutral.”

This phrase, or some version of it, gets used all the time when adults within a community or friend circle have drama, fight, or have some sort of awful friend breakup. It needs to end.

First of all, people use it to mean any number of the following things:

  1. I have too much on my plate to think clearly about what is happening.
  2. I just don’t want to deal with it.
  3. I don’t care, figure it out.
  4. I’m a complete fucking coward who doesn’t want to do the work it would take to help all parties get the help and validation they need.

This is valid when one of your friends is not causing harm to another. Be adults. Figure your shit out and don’t track it in my home. Same with utter lack of spoons—if you can’t deal, and others can? That’s just how it goes.

neutral

However, I see this constantly when somebody has harmed or is in some way doing something really fucked up to somebody else. And when poor treatment, abuse, cruelty, resentment, shit-talking, lying, and other behaviors are involved, and people stay “neutral” I kinda want to vomit all over their shoes.

Because the thing is, you don’t have to stay neutral to remain friends with the person causing harm. It is okay to recognize that your friend is being an asshole and still be friends with them. But when you do decide that neutrality is your best option, here are some things that can happen:

For the person being wronged:

  1. They are likely not getting the level of emotional support and validation from you that they deserve, if you are calling them your friend. You might even be gaslighting them a little, making them doubt their own experience.
  2. It’s likely you aren’t actually talking to them about what’s going on, and thus any assumptions you make about what’s happening is coming second- or third-hand and is likely not terribly accurate. This can cause extra harm.
  3. They get to see you continue your friendship with the person hurting them through all of this. Although nobody has the right to tell anybody who they can be friends with, that can also be traumatic, and talking to them about it is useful.

For the person who is doing the harm:

  1. They often don’t get the real help they need because mutual friends are too busy being Switzerland to address the issues at hand and try to get through to them.
  2. Again, not talking + assumptions = bad.
  3. They get constant reassurance and validation from your continued friendship-without-challenges and you never really help them learn how fucked up they are being and therefore never help them grow. We become better humans when we can learn from our shitty behavior, not when people help us sweep it under the rug.

This has been something I have been fielding a little bit lately, but it’s also something that has come up repeatedly in stories friends have told about people allowing others to treat their friends atrociously under the guise of being “neutral”. Come the fuck on, y’all. This shouldn’t be how we operate, not as true friends to each other. It’s just another path to the missing stair (which, while specifically used to describe the issue of sexual harassment, can be broadened significantly).

PeteFallsDownVulture

To the various individuals who regularly name themselves “Switzerland”, instead of telling people you are “neutral” try thinking about what you really mean by it, deep down. And say that out loud instead. Because “neutral” is nowhere near the entirety of what you mean by it.

The fact is, being “neutral” helps nobody but yourself. And that’s cool. We have to indulge in self-care. But let’s call it what it is.

3 responses

  1. I think this article is missing a few crucial things. First of all, the second half seems to assume that who wronged whom is clear in every situation. That’s obviously not true. Also, it’s problematic to say that anyone wanting to stay neutral in a dispute is being selfish. There are some really altruistic reasons *NOT* to take sides in an interpersonal dispute in your circle of friends or community. For example:

    *You want to stay friends with former partners (and maybe their kids, too) as a breakup plays out;
    *You want to be available and trusted by both sides as a mediator, to ease pain, resolve conflict, maybe even facilitate reconciliation;
    *You just plain don’t have enough information to take sides and/or just plain don’t have time, energy, or expertise to participate;
    *You recognize that whatever is going on is not really your business, so you’re respectfully staying out of it.

    July 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    • Sounds like a bunch of self serving bullshit to me but you keep making excuses for yourself, buddy.

      July 1, 2015 at 8:04 pm

  2. This echoes so much of what I’ve stated in the past. The worst is when people act like staying neutral is some moral high ground. It can be, but it most certainly is not always. And when someone specifically uses it to put their head down and not get involved so as not to ruffle feathers, or not lose social capital, it isn’t about moral high ground at all. Even further, to label something as “drama”, in order to justify staying out of it, only gaslights the person being wronged and elevates the moral high ground they aren’t actually taking. Thanks for so brilliantly laying it out in a thoughtful way.

    July 1, 2015 at 7:33 pm

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