I was going to comment on a friend’s post regarding the Al Franken allegations, but it got so long I decided to make my own post. And then that post got too long, so I turned it into a blog . I’m writing this on my phone (and it has been a frustrating experience) so please forgive any errors.
It’s a tough time to try to navigate the many accusations of sexual impropriety coming out. All the pressure not to be biased towards and against people for reasons other than the exact claims against them almost feels like everyone has to be painted with a broad brush, all are presumed innocent or all are presumed guilty. There’s no room for nuance. There are so many things coming to light it’s nearly impossible to look at each case and make a determination about credibility. My gut tells me that victims feel emboldened to come forward by the courage of others and I do believe that for the most part this avalanche isn’t simply people taking advantage of the climate by smearing good men because it bolsters an agenda. I believe the victims. I can see it in their faces, and I can relate.
While the idea of reputations falsely dredged through the mud sickens me, and I know that there are nefarious reasons people can (and have) made false claims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, I’m unwilling to reject out of hand the painful words of victims brave enough to step forward merely on the slightest of chances they aren’t being truthful.
It’s interesting to me to see people defend those alleged to have done some pretty awful stuff by asserting that sexual abuse just isn’t common enough for this many accusations, and that there can’t be this many perpetrators- it must be a witch hunt, a political hack job, a shakedown… and yet that in turn means they are willing to believe there are that many more malicious people capable of and willing to lie about someone for political reasons, for attention, and for money. I don’t buy that argument, although I know many will.
It’s tough to see idols fall. But that’s the nature of idolatry. Putting any human on a pedestal is a recipe for disappointment. They WILL let you down. Even the Tom Hanks of the world have done things that would tarnish our views of them. It’s the nature of celebrity, the nature of politics, the nature of the power and money game, it’s the nature of humanity. And while those who give in to their basest desire to feed their egos and satiate their lust at the expense of others are completely responsible for their own sins, we all must look at our role in putting them up there, giving them a sense of invulnerability, excusing bad behavior if it suits our purpose, and yet also expecting them to always act above their own humanity.
People have used positions of power to take advantage of others since time began. It is at the core of our brokenness. The famous quote of absolute power corrupting absolutely is probably one of the truest things ever uttered.
So why are we surprised and heartbroken when one of “our” guys turns out to have fallen into this trap? It’s so much easier to enjoy the fall of someone who exemplifies things we already don’t agree with or are disgusted by (which in itself is an indictment of our culpability). I think when it’s someone we like or respect, it’s the perceived betrayal of our loyalty (that they likely never really earned) but even more so it feels like a betrayal of our own instincts and judgement. If we can’t believe our own selves about who is trustworthy, how can we trust anyone? It causes us to second-guess our beliefs about everyone.
I would argue that it probably should.
That’s not to say that we should become jaded and cynical, or that we should expect the worst from people. But perhaps we start to recognize that someone’s talents, their bank account, their attractiveness, their political success, or their charisma is just one part of them, not the entirety. You can have any and all of those things without good character. You can also have good character and make mistakes or use poor judgement. There’s not a person walking this planet that would want to put their entire life up to microscopic scrutiny, nor is there an adult currently walking this planet who is without flaws or past choices they wouldn’t want as the top nightly news story.
Most of us are horrified at what has been brought into the light recently. I think the Bill Cosby revelations were the canary in the coal mine for a whole lot of ugly in the underbelly of this world. An old perverted racist from Alabama that I think would be a force for harm if elected to the office he’s attempting to gain? It’s easy to accept his failings and want to cheer his political demise. We enjoy watching him get devoured. A beloved TV dad, the star of a show I watch every week, a politician I support- those are the tough ones. And they reveal so much about my heart.
There is a redemptive path in all of this, for everyone involved.
We must acknowledge the sickness and depravity of our culture. We fetishize celebrity, make excuses for bad behavior if it suits us, expect our icons to be above reproach while enabling their sense of invulnerability, we pick and choose which victims to believe and which to demonize based on how much we idolize the accused, we pay money to watch movies and play games that objectify women and normalize violence, and we hawkishly watch, cheering the downfall of the once-powerful like Romans at the Coliseum watching a lion tear a man limb from limb.
We need to celebrate character, extol vulnerability and empathy and compassion. We need to recognize how our idolatry is destroying people and infecting our society. We need to raise our standards while simultaneously allowing for people to be human. We need to stop rewarding the audacity of narcissists with awe and praise because of the damage such people tend to leave in their wake.
We must examine our hearts and own our hypocrisy. We need to be generous with forgiveness while not forsaking wisdom and boundaries. We should be focused on reconciliation for those who choose to enter that process, allowing trust to be earned. We need to acknowledge the pain of victims and the brokenness of those we esteem, allowing space for healing for both. We must stop defending actions unworthy of defense, stop making false moral equivalencies, stop the whataboutisms, stop keeping tally sheets, stop protecting the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable. We must require more of our leaders than a show of strength and unrestrained, unaccountable authoritarianism.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has anxiety about the next “hero” to fall. I believe character is revealed not just when people make mistakes, but how they handle their mistakes when they make them… and they WILL make them. Some actions have more devastating consequences than others. Repeated behaviors indicative of a pattern require more work, but I contend that no one (other than a diagnosed psychopath) is irredeemable. That doesn’t mean that everything they lose as a result of their actions should be restored to them, but if they are willing to walk the tough redemptive path, we will all be the better for it if they succeed.