The tsunami of truth-telling, justice -seeking women rolling over Hollywood is wide, deep and impartial. The men caught up in its powerful, long-denied currents, accused of sexual harassment and assault, range from the epically powerful (Weinstein) to the relatively unknown (Toback) and now to the beloved.
Although sexual violence has touched #metoo, and I wasn’t surprised, seeing Louis CK’s name added to the list of accused was unnerving. Aside from seeing Weinstein at the Oscars and recognizing him as a Hollywood power player, he was an unknown quantity. But Louis was my guy. I’ve quoted him, shared clips of his standup to illustrate points in my diversity consulting, and kept his bit on air travel downloaded to my iPhone to provide levity and perspective to my own travel misadventures. I found his gender commentary frank and refreshing. I studied his sets to emulate one day in my own foray into comedy.
Then he admitted his guilt and social media blew up. Despite my bias favoring Louis CK, it seemed his apology got more negative reactions than news of either his behavior or Weinstein’s. In fact, when I posted his his statement on two of my feeds I got more vitriolic responses than I’ve seen in a while. Men and women alike expressed hatred towards Louis, while others rejected my appreciation of his apology as a possible model for other men.
Louis’s bad behavior probably feels more like a personal betrayal than Weinstein’s because we got to “know” Louis onscreen and he portrayed himself – on and off stage – as a progressive male. But that alone doesn’t explain the breadth and depth of anger directed at him post-apology. True, his statement was neither ideal nor perfect, but most of the reactions I saw lacked something essential to progress and change: compassion.
One of the noxious bad habits of liberals is making the perfect the enemy of the good. No, the world shouldn’t be “this way”. Yes, men “should” know better. Yes, Louis should have done better, especially with his espoused values. But it is, they don’t, and he didn’t. We don’t go from what-is to what-should-be in one day, month, year, or even lifetime. People learn slowly and make imperfect strides towards improvement. We all do.
Louis CK did disgusting, unprofessional, violent things to women. Then he lied about it and helped silence his victims, reinforcing oppression of women and general injustice. He deserves to be held accountable, and to face his consequences. He deserves our anger, disappointment and disgust. And he deserves compassion and appreciation.
Compassion requires neither permissiveness nor passivity. We can be outraged and hold someone accountable and still have compassion. Indeed, it’s necessary to maintain our humility, our shared humanity, and our ability to self-reflect and change. Liberals are practiced at compassion for the victimized and downtrodden – we see ourselves in them, and feeling such compassion makes us feel like good people. Having compassion for perpetrators is harder because we neither see ourselves in them nor want to. However, compassion for perps and oppressors enables us to do two things that are key to human progress: one, remember that we too are capable of atrocities and therefore must be vigilant to those tendencies; two, allow us to celebrate every small , imperfect victory on the long road of evolution.
There is much to grieve in the revelation of Louis CK’s behavior, and much to celebrate in his statement that’s missed without compassion. He admitted his guilt. He acknowledged the impact of his behavior. He took responsibility without blaming his victims despite having requested consent. He named and owned the power imbalance that contributed context and impact. He expressed regret and his own pain without making it more important than the pain he caused. While an explicit apology expressed directly to his victims and a commitment to reparations or clear next steps would have been even better, on its face his statement is superior to the responses of most of the accused. Small, imperfect steps forward.
Facing hard truths about reality can make us feel helpless, so we itch to take action. Crucifying the guilty like Louis CK feels like action – in this case, for women, it’s acting to even the score by releasing pent-up rage; for men, it’s acting to maintain identities as good men and build trust with women by distancing themselves from a “bad” man. But crucifications are incomplete and ineffective for long term change. They clearly communicate what “bad” behavior is, but don’t replace it with a clear alternative. Compassion* can. Gazing at the crucified and asking “When have I, too, transgressed like this? What caused it?” and “How have I contributed to this, or situations like it?” opens up curiosity* and consciousness*, which spark creative problem solving. Then asking “What can I do differently in my own life to ensure this never happens again?” inspires meaningful action – and change.
Liberal nitpicking of other liberals for good yet imperfect behaviors not only splinters our unity and dilutes our power, it damages our integrity and taints our moral authority. Louis CK “should” have known better and done better – like all of us in some aspect of life. Like all of us, he failed. Holding each other to higher standards includes not just requiring better behavior, but weaning ourselves off “either-or” thinking like right-wrong, love-hate, empathy-accountability. Our failures deserve “both-and” attitudes – compassion as well as anger and guilt – and every feeble step in a better direction should be celebrated. We who crucify deserve such compassion and celebration in our own meanderings towards being our best selves. I for one would want nothing less – especially from those I consider allies.
**If you are a changemaker, leader or diversity champion who would like to learn the power of The 6 C’s (courage, consciousness, curiosity, compassion, (self) control, changeability) to improve your professional and personal life in ways you care about, please contact me.