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I have been planning to write something about this for a long time, but have wondered if it would be wise to do so. An article I read on the BBC news site a few days convinced me to go ahead and the Senate Committee hearings for the Supreme Court nominee has made it seem urgent.
Here’s the relevant quote from the BBC article:
Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono said “the men in this country” should “just shut up”.
“Not only do women like Dr Ford, who bravely comes forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed,” she told a press conference.
The press conference she spoke at was called so that Senator Hirono could comment on the charges that Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, made a clumsy, unwelcome and unsuccessful attempt to have sex with Christine Ford (now Professor Ford) when he was 17 and she was 15 years old and both had been drinking.
Now the charges and Kavanaugh’s response have gone to the Senate committee and there have been more tears , shouting, anger and hostility.
If you are reading this, you will probably be likely to side with Ford if you tend to be a progressive liberal in your political persuasions, but conservatives are likely to see Dr Ford’s statement as false or irrelevant. What is going on with this humiliating process? What is driving this polarization? Something is driving the Senator to direct men to “just shut up” and to assert that “women should be believed”. It’s pretty obvious that her position is not consistent with our established understanding of truth or justice. What would happen in our courts if all women were automatically believed and men could not speak?
Why would an intelligent woman make such a foolish statement? She has enough life experience to know that the question of who is more likely to lie or tell the truth is not related in any way to sexual identity. What is the origin of such unreasonable thinking?
I am convinced that anger is a major factor in our political life. And that is not a good thing! To further illustrate the point, while I was writing this, an angry woman cornered Senator Flake in an elevator during a break in the Senate Committee hearings and berated him for not immediately taking Dr. Ford’s side.
Anger has roots. It doesn’t usually start as anger; it starts as hurt, and hurt is an unavoidable aspect of life.
Sometimes, the hurt has a systemic dimension to it. Few people are more disadvantaged than the Dalits in India. Dalits, or untouchables, are born into a caste that is at the very bottom of a stratified social system. They are discriminated against and deprived of opportunity at every stage of life and that will not change until the dominant religious system changes. Amazingly, though, you can find Dalits who have a positive outlook and have overcome all the odds to make a successful and happy life for themselves.
More often hurt comes, not from systemic injustice, but from personal encounters with other people and it therefore has little or no systemic root. I am ashamed when I think of “Raymond” who was in my class when I was 9 and 10 years old. Raymond came from a family who lived on a very poor and small farm in the nearby mountains. They did not have running water and had very few clothes. Raymond rarely washed and wore the same clothes day after day. He smelled. He was also the slowest learner in the class. Raymond had no friends in our class but he had many mockers. As far as I can remember, no one ever stood up for Raymond. My shame now is that I didn’t stand up for him either; I was one of the mockers.
I can’t remember ever seeing Raymond again after we all moved on from grade-school to junior-high school. I wonder how he coped. Did he grow up to be well adjusted and happy, or did our cruelty leave permanent, distorting scars on him? To put it another way, did Raymond find the grace to forgive his tormentors and rise above the cruel treatment, or did his hurt turn to anger and his anger to violence?
I can empathize with women who have been subjected to sexual assault. I have listened to, counselled and prayed for many victims of sexual assault by strangers or friends or family members. I know that sexual assault alters a woman’s life from that point on.
I recently had a conversation on this subject with a therapist who, since she was a woman, could say what men cannot say these days. She said, “I have also been disgusted to see many women use sexual attraction as a tool or weapon in the work place, but you can’t say that in the current climate.” It seems that sexuality is used as a weapon these days by both men and women, though the power has usually rested more with the men. Is it now shifting to the women? Will they be able to get even because we all feel obliged to believe the claims of every accusing woman?
Hurt has turned to anger and anger is dominating our public discourse. Truth and justice are the victims. That is why forgiveness is such an important alternate pathway following hurt.
These are the two competing pathways available to us: forgiveness leading to the development of strong and admirable character—or nursing the hurt until it becomes anger. The path of hurt becoming anger makes us vulnerable to exploitation by more powerful people with their own agendas. There are many who would like to marshal all the hurt into a powerful force to overthrow the democratic system we have developed over the generations.
It seems to me that all human beings admire those who forgive and don’t become bitter and angry in spite of suffering great injustices. Surely Nelson Mandela is a contender for the most admired man in modern history. We were and are deeply impressed by his gentle and forgiving attitude to the men, and the system, who imprisoned and attempted for decades to humiliate and break his dignity. His forgiveness and gracious voice enabled an entire nation to take a giant step towards justice when it seemed destined for a bloody civil war.
On the other hand, we don’t generally admire angry people who see themselves as victims of “the system” or some particular aspect of it. Other angry people might want to get behind the hurt and angry voice, but we know intuitively that anger cannot produce justice and peace.
Politicians understand that the angry groups represent votes so they attempt to “speak the language” of the bigger angry groups. If their goal is to get elected or re-elected they have to figure out how to appeal to as many of the larger or more outspoken groups as they can. But there is a problem here. The angry groups always have a louder voice than those who are not angry, so the politician can get behind a very vocal group and find they are losing votes from those who are quiet.
These are the dilemmas of the current tumultuous, angry public square. Doesn’t it make us all long for leaders who are not seeking to appeal to the emotions of the angry groups and who are motivated by selfless public service for the common good? Where are the political leaders who have deep convictions about what is right and what is wrong and who will not deviate from that path and will not violate their well-developed conscience?
If you have seen a member of that endangered, and possibly extinct, species do let me know!