Recently the toilet flooded in my apartment. Towards the back of the toilet bowl there sprung a tiny, tiny leak, and every 1 or 2 seconds a small drop of water would escape. It seemed like such a tiny thing, and yet the first time I noticed it was after a long day at work, when I walked into the bathroom and my feet squelched on an oversaturated shower rug. My plans for the night were immediately put on hold. Many towels and the strategic placing of a mixing bowl later the floor was finally dry, although I would later discover it had soaked the carpet in my closet (which shares a wall with the bathroom) and the cleaning and drying process would start all over again. The mixing bowl, despite being the largest in our cupboard, only lasted a few hours before needing to be emptied in the tub, and my roommate and I ended up having to time it, to make sure that every six hours one of us would be around to dump the water and avoid a second flood. We got the toilet fixed pretty quickly, but the stress and anxiety, not to mention the sheer amount of time it wasted, is not something I will easily forget.
Someone who has never experienced a leak may not see what the big deal is. A normal toilet and a leaky toilet are almost the same; to the untrained eye there is no difference. It’s only when you bend down and look closely that you can see the almost invisible leak and hear the soft drip. Even then, you may think it’s possible to ignore; the amount of water coming out is minuscule. But it never stops coming out, and that drop per second ends up producing about 5 gallons in a 24-hour period; if not frequently taken care of it quickly becomes unmanageable.
In a similar fashion, those who experience privilege may never see the hidden emotional battle a less-privileged person goes through every day as they encounter a steady drip of microaggressions. Drip. A lesbian is asked innocently if she has a boyfriend. Drip. A female working in tech support is asked by her caller if she can please transfer him to tech support. Drip. A young black man notices people scooting away from him as he takes a seat on the bus. Drip, drip, drip, all day every day.
A real life toilet leak is fixed with a wrench, a new gasket, and some know-how; maybe a visit from the plumber if it turns out to be too difficult. But fixing the leak of microaggression is much more difficult; that requires a complete overhaul of society. What we can do is be aware. Know that other people are having to expend emotional energy on things that may seem small, that may BE small, but which combined with all the other small, insignificant things may be causing them deep emotional pain. Do not contribute to this pain. An insensitive or unthoughtful comment, even if said innocently, may be the microaggression that overflows someone else’s capacity to handle it.
There is a reason so many Mormon women are on antidepressants. There is a reason the suicide rate for LGBT youth is so high. People all around you are battling hidden floods. So the next time you are tempted to call someone lazy, consider that they may have been up half the night taking care of an emotional flood. The next time someone is short with you consider that they may have half their attention fixed on an internal bucket, trying not to let it slosh out. Avoid snap judgement of other people, especially if you enjoy a type of privilege they do not. And if your own leak is under control, consider asking others what you can do to help contain their leaks.