Harassment: You Play, You Pay

Harassment: You Play, You Pay
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We live in trying times to say the least. North Korea is threatening to reach Washington, DC with nuclear warheads, Republicans are on the verge of passing a huge tax redistribution scheme that will shift money from the poor to the rich, government is staring down the barrel of another shutdown, Trump refutes his own apology with respect to sexual harassment “locker room” jive while he also harbors suspicions that Obama was actually born in Kenya, again, and the Russian investigation plods along. There are so many dark clouds hanging over us as a society today that it is often difficult to identify any rays of light. But I am here to draw attention to the silver lining that encircles the seemingly perpetual gloom and doom that is contained in those dark clouds. You may say I’m a dreamer, on second thought I might get deported, better just call me an idealist borne of desperation and anxiety.

Those who closely follow the daily foibles and folly of this administration, and I include myself as one of those who do, are exhausted and fatigued with the constant bombardment of the assault upon our senses, common and neurological. So in an effort to derive potentially positive consequences from the dark era that is upon us I would like to offer the following: we are witnessing the awakening of a society that has too casually and flippantly excused sexual harassment. I find myself asking the question where have I been?

I must admit a disclaimer up front, and that is that I have never been accused of sexual harassment. This statement is reinforced by an acknowledgment that it is not for lack of opportunity but because of conscience. I have spent considerable time in locker room debates, pick-up bars, and in my younger years ran with what could only be referred to as a fast crowd, one where alcohol and drugs were both available and used. I caught the tail end of the free love generation, got educated in the promiscuity of the seventies, blossomed in the glam rock eighties and now find myself hopelessly trying to recapture my youth in my sixties. Long story short I have experienced the wonder of relationships that ranged from hours to years while love has remained elusive except in only a couple of occasions. But I can honestly say that I have never either felt the need nor the inclination to sexually harass any woman.

More importantly I can safely say that I have never had to resort to imposing my will upon a woman simply because I believe it would be wrong. Clearly and simply it is a moral decision and whether it was Catholic schools, or solid parenting or some combination of the two that helped cement such moral resolve I cannot say. However, I can readily confess that I have been in positions of power in my life where I might have been able to exert my will or satisfy my sexual desires over a woman yet never felt it would be the right thing to do. Been tempted but never succumbed to the temptation. Thus I find it incredibly troublesome and disturbing to learn of the pervasive extent to which men and mostly woman have been subjected to a rather common ritual.

This is not breaking my arm to pat myself on the back as much as it is to confront that as a man in his mid-sixties I have lived through a period where it may have been at least justifiable in some perverse sense of the culture of the times. There were times in my life where I was attracted to women who needed a man to exhibit the strong masculinity that was popularized in the movies of my youth by John Wayne and I protected them without taking advantage of them. In later life I have been attracted to women who project strong individualism and independence. In both cases I had enough respect for them to encourage they reach their full potential by choosing independence over dependence. That so many in position of power take full advantage of encouraging the later over the former reflects a failure on the part of all of us.

I realize the operative word here is respect. What I find so disturbing about the spate of allegations and accusations that have been leveled at men in power positions lately is the apparent prevalence of predatory behavior and disrespect that exists in our culture and society. Also it appears to not be confined to either gender or ideological persuasion. As a liberal Democrat the accusations leveled against Senator Al Franken and Congressman John Conyers, if true, are repugnant and the serial nature of these actions suggests more than a momentary lapse of judgement. Apparently the pattern of harassment rarely is an isolated incident but is repeated over and over again. As a society we all need to be educated on this sick perversion and need to speak up when we see it.

But to be fair, while sexual harassment is wrong, not all harassment should be measured without respect to severity. The accusations against Roy Moore involve potential charges of child molestation while those involving Donald Trump have been acknowledged by no less an authority than the accused himself in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tapes. To those accused in the entertainment industry the abundantly subjective nature of the business itself lends itself to devastating consequences for those who either refuse to participate or speak out.

What is so disheartening as this new era of enlightenment unfolds, however, is the apparent perverse incentives for those who simply deny their involvement and the current barriers that work to inhibit outspokenness by the aggrieved parties. We as a society must demand fairer treatment for the accusers and more extensive awareness of the issue on the part of everyone.

As one who has been on the receiving end of a non-disclosure agreement (on a non-sexual harassment matter) I would implore Congress to clamp down on this unfair business practice that provides undue protection to those generally accused of wrongdoing. In essence this is a pay off to an individual to keep their mouth shut. It is legalized extortion and affords little protection to those most in need.

But in the end we must, individually and as a society, learn lessons from what is unfolding before us and teach and train children and adults alike to reject the notion that it is acceptable to abuse others. Period. Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes, but under any guise is violence and must not be tolerated.

In the end we must learn that love is the ultimate measure of value and worth and is the only true indicator of seriousness in any relationship. Anyone who settles for less devalues not only themselves but their partner as well. As John Lennon tried to teach us, All You Need Is Love/Love Is All You Need. We are tiptoeing into a teachable moment that has profound consequences for present and future generations. We must celebrate those victims who have the strength and rectitude to come forward with stories that have haunted them for some time, often decades. It is their time now!

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