If you have ever wanted to do something for, with, or to another person you probably at least thought about consent. There is implied consent, expressed consent, informed consent, unanimous consent and substituted consent. These can all have various applications in everyday life regardless if you come across their main case uses. However, it is missing consent whether willfully or by neglect that needs to be addressed. So without further ado, let’s talk about consent.
A Personal Story
I was having a discussion the other day and someone brought up that their friend was unhappy with them and it was weighing on their mind. When my friend brought up what happened it seemed like it revolved around a harsh critique of their friend’s lifestyle choices that lead to them being in their current financial situation. My friend didn’t understand what was wrong, his friend, let’s call her Angry Ashley or just Ashley for short, was venting about her problems and my friend gave her some advice. At least my friend, let’s call him Consent Charlie or Charlie for short, thought that was what he was doing and it seemed to have backfired. He asked me for my opinion on what he could have done differently.
Angry Ashley’s Side
Let’s first take a look at this from Ashley’s perspective. Ashley was confiding in her friend about something potentially stressful. She had something that was weighing on her mind and wanted to talk about. At this point I am assuming she has a history of trust and respect with Charlie and thought he might be a good sounding board. However, it seems that Ashley merely wanted to blow off some steam, she wasn’t looking for a lecture. Ashley was being vulnerable to Charlie and feels like that vulnerability has now been betrayed due to Charlie’s reaction.
Consent Charlie’s Side
Charlie on the other hand thought differently. He assumed that their was implied consent in Ashley’s act of confiding in him. Charlie thought that Ashley was seeking advice. After all, they have a relationship based off of trust and respect so he wanted to be honest with her. Charlie openly admitted that what he said wasn’t the most flattering but he said he wasn’t malicious either. Charlie was trying to support his friend and help her achieve her goals.
My Take on the Discussion
Now when Charlie told this story to me, I asked him if he asked for consent. A confused look just glazed over his face “What do you mean?” I asked him if he asked her ‘Can I give you some advice?’ or ‘Do you want my opinion?’ Without establishing a express consent than all he had to go on was assumed implied consent by his presumptions. Judging by Ashley’s reactions his assumptions were wrong and now there is an issue.
I think what really shocked me is when I asked him if he thought that he should have asked for consent before he said anything. Charlie just kind of scoffed at me and said that no one actually asks for consent. He said you just know with having a base level of emotionally intelligence. I disagreed with him and just left it at that.
What Bothered Me
Let’s talk about consent some more. What bothered me the most is the level of arrogance and callousness of saying that consent can be seen with entry level emotional intelligence. Anyone who has been hurt emotionally or physically would beg to differ with that. We, as a society, need to change the playbook on what consent means. Also just because consent means something to you does not mean that it applies to the person you are interacting with. Consent is something that we all need to talk more openly about. I am trying to do my part in that.
My Consent Playbook
Consent is often most talked about around sex, which is an important conversation. However, I believe we need to start discussing consent around every interaction we have. This starts with teaching our children about consent. Most parents teach their kids about sharing, and asking for permission before using something. I believe that discussing asking for consent in our vocabulary at this time will be powerful as children get older. Around this same time we can discuss things like consent before physical touch, like a hug. Children are inherently smart and they want to follow examples set for them. If we start having consent conversations early on, it will make everything easier later.
As children turn into teenagers it is important to have conversations around sexual education, especially consent. This means consent in everything, from kissing to intercourse. Also, we need to make sure that we teach them respect for themselves first. I have heard and heard of too many conversations, especially with guys, where consent was completely ignored. I’ve lost friends over this growing up and I would raise my children to do the same. Friends make each other better and don’t tolerate each others bullshit. If you don’t have respect from your friends, were they even your friends to begin with?
Moving Into the Real World
As we become adults, things become a lot less opaque and a lot more nuanced. Consent broadens it’s definition to things beyond high school hookups, like the work place and marriage. The consequences of not understanding consent can also be significantly more grave as well.
Consent in the Work Place
Learning about managing and dealing with people in the work place is something I am still learning about. However, I have a clear understanding of consent and the importance that comes with it. It is often one of the first times that we come into a world where people can have significantly different upbringings and experiences that we do. That changes their perception of what is in front of them as well as how they like to be communicated to.
That is why consent is so important. I always ask my direct reports if I can talk to them about something with them before we have a serious discussion. This not only demonstrates mutual respect but also lets them know that I need to have a serious conversation with them. I also ask them when would be a good time to follow up about our conversation so no one is blind sided. Respect and consent in the workplace go hand in hand.
Marriage and Long Term Relationships
The same goes for our significant others as we get older. On one hand, you probably don’t have to ask them if it is okay to kiss them anymore. On the other hand, there may be new experiences that you do need to discuss with them. This goes for sexual experiences and other things. As we get through the honeymoon phase of relationships we often experience a wider range of peaks and valleys. What may be consensual at a peak, might not be consensual in a valley. That is why it is important to have open communication with your partner and determine what is appropriate and when.
Dealing with Society
Until this becomes the norm in society we are still going to have people who don’t understand, or care to understand consent. We need to do our best to not encourage this behavior and actively communicate why it is so important. If you have friends that are still acting like kids, doing what they want when they want to, then call them out on it. This is a ‘see something, say something’ type situation.
Let’s Talk About Consent : The Next Steps
Whether it is implied or explicit we need to talk about consent more. We need to discuss with the people around us how and when we like to be asked for consent. We need to discuss with those same people how and when they like to be asked for consent. When in doubt we just need to ask in general for consent. This is something that has been going on too long and isn’t talked about enough. If you are looking for some help in improving your communication in relationships check out these 5 books that can help.
Do you have any best practices for asking for consent? Share them in the comments below!