Here's the Thing
A still from The Secret of NIMH featuring Mrs. Brisby looking worried. She is a light brown field mouse with large eyes. She wears a red cloak.

I Used to be That Guy

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #148. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.


I’m not the first person to write about this kind of thing and I’m certain I won’t be the last, but I feel like it needs saying. Or admitting, I guess. These days I try my best to be a good person – in other words, I try not to be a hateful, bigoted, misogynistic creeper. Someone who might be marginalized (actually marginalized, not an idiot with a persecution complex screaming about white genocide and the war on Christmas) for any reason should be able to go through life without feeling like they’re a target, and the fewer idiots who contribute to those feelings (intentionally or not), the better. Here’s the thing: I’m ashamed to admit it but this didn’t always used to be the case for me.

The old Rob – as in Rob from the past, not the current version which has back problems and a vested interest in bran – wasn’t what I’d call . . . conscientious. He fancied himself a nice guy and was regarded as such by a lot of friends. He was always pretty liberally-minded and viewed racism as the utter garbage that it is, but still harbored some behaviors and ideas that make 2022 Rob feel a bit squeamish, thinking back on them.

He made “jokes” that undeniably came off as racist. Even though it wasn’t coming from a place of hate, it was still awful and it took longer than I want to admit to realize how, regardless of intention, it was definitely making people uncomfortable (at best). This also goes hand-in-hand with believing that people were being too sensitive. Yep, that old chestnut. He never bothered to think that what he was saying might hurt people regardless of his intent because, you know, “it’s just a joke.”

Such an asshole.

This is the point where I’d like to say something like, “I did this and everything is better now” but nope, there haven’t been any easy answers. The first thing that got past me to really look inside himself and try to make a conscious change was when my wife told me I was being an asshole at work and it was bringing everybody down. Hearing that from somebody close to me – who knew me well, knew what was going on in my head and also knew how my demeanor was coming off – meant that I couldn’t just brush it off as someone who didn’t “get” me. This led to a conscious effort to really think about my actions and responses; to stop myself before making a “joke” and consider whether or not it might actually come off as hurtful; to slow down and wait for someone who’s expressing their discomfort at something I’ve said or done and truly listen to what they have to say before responding.

I discovered that most of the time, it really was on me.

The second thing that helped was, oddly enough, social media. I know but I’m being serious.

Between making online friends with people from more walks of life than I’d ever encountered in-person and talking with people like Veerender Jubbal (basically the nicest guy on the internet, who was unfortunately harassed off of Twitter back in 2015 by an army of goobergaters), who didn’t hesitate to tell me when I was saying something insensitive or unintentionally bad.

Again, what really helped here was taking the time to actually listen to criticism and not jump to Defensive Turtle Mode immediately. I didn’t always like what I found when I tried to objectively reflect on myself, but being able to realize this helped me to be more proactive about changing my behavior to the point that it stopped being a conscious adjustment and became how I acted by default.

I wish I could say I don’t say or do unintentionally horrible or demeaning things like that anymore, but I still screw up. Like when I started to mansplain away comments about how The Secret of NIMH’s Mrs. Brisby is only ever identified as her dead husband’s wife and not as her own person, or how I failed to register the way in which Horizon: Zero Dawn appropriates/steals/misrepresents Native American culture until it was pointed out to me.

Un-learning our worst tendencies is a constant process, and one that’s never truly going to end. But I’m okay with that, because it’s worth doing if it makes even one person a little more comfortable to just simply be themselves out in the open.


Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.


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