The George Takei accusation is knocking the liberal internet on its heels. Suddenly the mob is faced with a face they love and are challenged with the question of, “do they want to hurt this person the same way?”
For weeks now they have been supporting aggressive bans and protests against accused actors and politicians who have been accused of sexual harassment and abuse. These accusations were often open secrets which people are finally admitting are truth to be resolved instead of concealed.
I think that the aspect of finally admitting the truth is part of why society is responding so aggressively. We are ashamed that we didn’t do something about it earlier, so we are trying to make up for our failures by jumping on the punishment bandwagon. Let’s be straightforward here. From my experience as a priest helping people find healing, at least 80% of our society has either been abused and/or participated in abuse. 4 out of 5 of us have experienced the pain, the shame, the betrayal, and all of the other emotions which come with abuse.
For whatever reason most of us feel that we will never see the person who abused us “get what’s coming to them” for what they did. Most commonly that’s because they are family who we love and hate at the same time. Most abuse happens from family and family friends. Most abuse isn’t reported because the abused and their family don’t want to “rock the boat.”
So instead we turn to dehumanizing the distant threat. We can’t report uncle Tom because everyone loves him, so we just have to keep his “predilictions” an open secret, and make sure nobody gets in a dangerous situation with him…
…but that actor? I don’t know him personally, and he just did these bad things to someone else I don’t know.
“He’s a monster! Burn the Monster. Destroy the Monster. Prove that the world will actually do something about the horrors I’ve experienced. Let my calls for the Monster’s pain make up for the fact that I’m not doing anything about the abuses in my life!”
Why this doesn’t work
The problem here is that this doesn’t help the situation. By dehumanizing the “monster” we have stopped admitting that this is a systemic problem in our lives which has touched us and is touching our children and loved ones.
Abuse is a cycle committed by normal human beings. Often both abusers and abused adults do not know how to use healthy mechanisms for intimacy and have habituated unhealthy ones. Young people from early 20s down to way, way too young, encounter these abusive patterns and adopt them. Sometimes by seeing it happen to others, and sometimes by experiencing them personally.
When I was 9 an older boy in his early teens who was a friend of the family was having a sleepover and he interrupted our normal night with “a lesson in self pleasuring.” Because I experienced this, I mentally categorized it as a rite of passage. So 3 years later when I was nearly a teenager and I had a young family friend spending the night, I tried to recreate the “lesson in self-pleasuring.” Thankfully the younger boy’s family taught him more about sex and abuse than my family taught me, and straight up called it out and shut it down.
As an adult I can recognize that exact pattern is a cycle of abuse, but at the time I didn’t.
Our social response to abuse needs to change, but not in the direction of mob punishment.
Four Steps of Healthier Responses
First off, we need to start listening to all accusers. Instead of attacking accusers because we don’t want to admit someone we love might have done something we need to let them speak and share. Allow actual investigation. If we take our time to listen, and follow the steps below, the threat of false accusations goes away so it won’t hurt anyone to listen to all accusations whether true or not.
Secondly, we need to prevent additional abuse, by making sure the abuser no longer has opportunity.
Third, we need to delay the temptation to destroy the accused’s life and credibility while investigating. We need to remember that even if the accusations are horrible, the accused is a human being. Their life is more than sex (healthy or not) and their contributions to society are far larger. The offenders who get away with it for the longest are often in a position where they have helped hundreds or even thousands of people.
Fouth, we need to change our consciousness from one of revenge to one of healing abusers and making it right.
This one is going to be the hardest for people. Let’s play a game though. Harvey Weinstein.
Imagining an Applied Healthier Response
Lets imagine that we tried what I’m proposing here. I’m going to imagine that people listened to the abusers and decided to apply these steps to the Harvey Weinstein case.
Everyone in his organization quickly makes an open admission of a situation. “Harvey Weinstein has a mental illness where he is tempted to use his power to sleep with women.” His illness is treated like any other mental or physical challenge, it is noted and compensated for. EVERYONE who deals with him recognizes he has this illness. He is prevented from being in situations where the temptation to abuse his power in this way would arise.
Lawsuits are filed to provide financial compensation and take their time to go through the courts. The people he abused will have opportunity to be heard and supported in their own healing. His sponsors and partners in business all release a statement saying that they are horrified to find out about the illness which has caused Harvey to hurt so many people. All of them contribute to non-profit organizations to support the protection from, and healing of, abuse. They also commit to helping form a society where what Harvey did doesn’t happen. They commit to sending all of their employees to training in healthy sexual and power dynamics so that everyone in the company will be empowered to end abuse at work and at home.
A lot of people who loved Harvey come forward and express sadness and sorrow that he did this and commit to helping him heal and doing what they can to make sure he never does this again. Instead of belittling the loved ones for supporting his healing, most people respect their commitment to helping stop abuse.
Within a short period of time Weinstein releases an admission of his behavior. He apologizes and promises to make sure it never happens again. He commits to a life-long recovery and prevention program and donates the vast majority of his fortune to an abuse prevention and recovery non-profit.
The world knows that no punishment would be big enough. They know that the abuser is being prevented from further abuse, they have reason to believe that the abuser and the abused are finding healing. All of the people who participated in concealing the abuse are having to admit their behaviors and are receiving opportunities to learn and do better in the future. The abused have been heard and are receiving support in healing. The whole issue sets a precedent for others to come forward to ask for personal healing and help in ending the abuse being done by loved ones.
Revenge vs Healing: The emotions and morals
Revenge doesn’t make it right. Nothing will. The hurts and pain which have happened are part of life now, but our revenge mindset is preventing us from using all available resources and having open communication to stop future abuses. It is time to change that.
It is easy to paint life in black and white, good and bad. It’s hard to admit that good people do bad things, but we need to find the strength to do this. Every single revelation is an opportunity to stop hundreds or thousands of future abuses. We have a choice to allow ourselves the false comfort of a righteous moral high ground through calling for the utter destruction of the next accused abuser, or we can call for healing and face the uncomfortable truth that abuse is done by human beings who need to stop abusing, but then also need help healing and preventing future abuse.