Wanted: Ethical New Ways of Being Together
#MeToo. I have to admit that at first I didn't understand how tweeting about this could make a significant difference. Oh, I believed the women who were telling their stories. But while that's an awesome first step, it takes more to create lasting change. We know, because we've done this before. More than fifty years ago small groups met in living rooms and started a social revolution as women began to tell each other the truth about their lives. As a result great changes were made in relationships everywhere. But that was only half of it.
The other half was that women fought in court for their rights. When they did HR policies in major companies began to change. Over time admissions, lending and health care policies also changed, and it became illegal to discriminate against someone simply because they were female. As more doors opened, salaries began to rise. While it's true that lives were rocked at tremendous personal costs for everyone, men and children included, over time half the population began to have more equitable choices.
Today, it's been gratifying to see that people have been taken seriously after they've disclosed abuse in the workplace. Yet as right and good as that is, I've wondered how lasting this change will be, and I've found myself dissatisfied with rapid retribution. For instance, it's been startling to see the swiftness with which Kevin Spacey was written out of a completed film, and how quickly Charlie Rose was whisked off the air. If those particular men did something wrong they ought to face consequences. And yet, I find myself wondering why they've been dealt with so rapidly and decisively, while for centuries the very things they did simply appear to have been business as usual. Will anything about abuse in the workplace really change? Haven't stories from women in the military exposed terrible abuse long before this? And yet the Commander in Chief grotesquely boasts about his sexual assaults against women without any consequences. Do we really not care about that? Or do we feel so helpless and hopeless about the size of the problem that we'll settle for the consolation that comes with the downfall of a few powerful males?
If that's true, we shouldn't be comforted and content with so little. Instead, how do we make this moment do more than just call out and publicly shame and punish a relatively small handful of powerful men? How do we make lasting changes that create more freedom, dignity and respect for a greater number of people—including people who don't even identify as male or female? (Because this isn't fifty years ago; and now we know that human beings come with more variety than just those two genders.)
This is difficult and complicated, yet I have hope that the future can be different. We can start with a vision and expectation that all relationships be based in an ethic of respect and mutuality. We can teach our children compassion and empathy, and we can offer remedial instruction in these things for all of us who never got that training. Mutuality, respect and compassion aren't weaknesses to be ridiculed—they're core components of an ethical system. We call it the Golden Rule, and too often dismiss it instead of giving it a serious try. We could at least begin living this way as an experiment in ethics and measure the results, because the system we've got is running into increasing dead ends, and our sustainable options are running out. We've come to a time when we can only succeed if we move in a new direction, with new policies and practices, new ways of being human together on a planet that is in urgent need of all this on a larger scale. Mutuality, respect, compassion. Let these ethical practices become an important way for all of us to actively support #MeToo.