Pass the Compassion, please…


(when your whole country is a trigger, it’s hard to dodge the bullets)

Well, happy Thanksgiving, all!

(DISCLAIMER!  By ‘you’ I don’t mean YOU -unless the ‘you’ fits. This is how I write-for me, “one this” or “one that” is cumbersome and too formal for most of my topics.)

I have a bit of advice for you as you prepare to sit down with family and friends and instead of speaking your gratitude, would rather expound on the ubiquitous, never-ending stream of sexual abuse/assault/harassment stories that abound in our nation right now:

Don’t, unless you’re going to speak with non-judgment and compassion.

Seriously, don’t. Unless you’re willing to open your mind and heart and listen? Willing to have the uncomfortable and honest discussion? Willing to stop victim-blaming? Willing to prioritize empathy over your need to dominate the conversation/be “right” in an argument, or, for some, validate your own previous behavior? Nah, today, especially, is not the day.

Why?

(DISCLAIMER again: I’m not espousing that the topic shouldn’t be discussed, ever. On the contrary-honest and fearless exchanges on this subject, had they not been avoided, could have saved countless {and I do meant countless, having seen all of the “me, too” hashtags} girls and boys from life-altering trauma. Talk about it. LISTEN about it. LEARN about it. Early and often, please.)

Because tensions are high. Because in some families, confrontation is the deal during family get-togethers. Because copious amounts of alcohol. People get really stupid when they drink, while still perceiving themselves and their behavior as perfectly rational, and of course, ‘right.’ Because one person’s victim conspiracy theory comment is another’s trigger. Yep. I said it. The “T” word. Because, to use another term at which some people  now scoff, family should be your “safe place.” Whether it be a thoughtless comment, or a relentless victim-blaming  tirade, you could really be stabbing somebody in the heart.

Because, if you’re in a large group situation, no matter what your political leanings (and I still don’t get how sexual abuse became a partisan topic), chances are very good that one or more of these are the case:

  • Someone at the table has experienced molestation, an assault, or harassment, and you just weren’t chosen to be in on the story, or that someone hasn’t chosen to speak yet.
  • If someone at the table has been molested, it’s very possible that the perp is at the table too, passing you the mashed potatoes.
  • The victim (who will be referred to as ‘survivor’ from this point) is already tied in knots at the notion of sitting at this table (whether perp is present or not) and trying to act normal.
  • The survivor has been emotionally shredded for weeks now, as there has been nothing else discussed on talk shows, in kitchens, or in the news-the topics of sexual assault and pedophilia are inescapable. While there is so much good in women and men coming forward and speaking their truth, the consequence for survivors is the daily or hourly re-living of events that slice and dice more keenly than whatever you’re using to julienne the veggies for your feast.
  • The survivor across the table is so tired, and just wants to enjoy a few hours of peace and fellowship with her family before the next news story about the latest accusation comes out and fuels the cycle of brain-fry/heartbreak.
  • Your aunt/sister/mother/cousin/brother has spent weeks/months/years/decades wondering: what her life could have been like without the disaster; what greatness she might have achieved without the anchor of (unearned) shame weighing her to the floor; what it might have felt like to enjoy her thin-ness when she was; why being pretty was a crime or being an ounce overweight was the ruination of a woman; how faithful he could have been had the church not been a place of horror; what self-esteem feels like; what good could have been done with the tens of thousands spent on therapy and meds; what ‘normal’ is; trying not to cry when his friends talk about ideal childhoods. Wondering why people say, ‘such a long time ago, just get over it!’ when apparently it’s only the survivor’s club who knows that getting over “it” doesn’t happen.  “It”  became part of what molded her into the person she is.  It’s one of many aspects, to be sure, but those who lived through it have permanent scars, and those scars are burning right now. You could douse the flames just a little if you choose:
  • When you bloviate about party plants, what the governor thinks, what Jane Curtin signed, the “He totally denies it!” proclamation, or the more local “what was she wearing?” “was she drunk?” analysis, the person who just passed the green bean casserole uses every ounce of self-control she had not to bean you with it. His mind is short-circuiting and he’s making the healthy promise to himself to never attend a family function ever again, for his own sanity’s sake.
  • If Drunk Uncle begins a rant, be the one to exclaim, “New Subject!” if that’s the best you can do. Better yet, first tell him he’s wrong, then change the subject. Your table mates will (silently, most likely) thank you. The survivor(s) at the table will take a breath and smile a little, knowing s/he has a champion in you.

Think:

  • Trying to function unscathed for the last few weeks-trying to avoid teeth-grinding, sudden tears, nightmares, or flashbacks? Nearly impossible. The survivors need major consideration and compassion right now. Just because you haven’t heard about it doesn’t mean that your sister, cousin, mother, aunt, or grandparent-isn’t holding it together by a thread.
  • As in the meme above, if you would prefer a probable pedophile to a Democrat in Alabama, might be a good idea to keep that gem of a notion to yourself, no matter whose company you’re enjoying. It also might be a good idea for some introspection, but I digress.
  • These overindulgence-fueled conversations can make a survivor, for a few moments, anyway, forget about how steel-strong he really is and how relentlessly courageous she is at her core.  It puts a survivor back to a place he or she has chosen to transcend; this place may fit your comfort zone because it’s the world you recognize, but for so many, there’s no comfort in that particular familiar.
  • As ever, as always, kindness matters. It matters more than political bent, more than your desire to score verbal points over your nephew, more than your ego or your biases.

Choose kindness today. So many people, survivors or not, will be Thankful for it.

Peace, friends,

Compassion, friends.

Courage, “club.”

*New comment below; it’s a must-read! Thanks, Lisa King.

Visit:

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Rainn.org

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Pass the Compassion, please…

  1. p.s. A Facebook acquaintance, Florida Leader and (now I see) courageous survivor Lisa King, posted these words today. Beautiful and eloquently penned. I wanted to add her post because she said it better, frankly:
    “For all of us, I will tell the truth. For the future of my children and grandchildren and all the people I love, I will tell the truth. I was abused when I was a child. By men who were trusted by those in my family circle.
    And I kept those things secret. Not because I was threatened, but because I knew I would not be believed. And because I thought there was something wrong with me that brought these things on myself. Because when these things start happening to you when you’re nine years old, what else are you to think?
    I am telling you this because sitting around our thanksgiving table talking about current events I realized that everyone still thinks these things happen to other people. And because even now I have not told my story to the people closest to me.
    We talk about these things conceptually. So it’s easy to take positions and argue and cling to our self delusions. We WANT our self delusions. It is too terrifying to think that these things have happened to a woman or girl you love. We all know who Harvey Weinstein is, but nobody we know personally knows Harvey Weinstein. So we delude ourselves that all these situations are far removed from us.
    Around my thanksgiving table were strong, independent women who have never told even each other that these things had happened to them. After the last several weeks I had to accept that I had never told my sister or mother these things and that it was likely that my daughters, even though I had taught them to stand up for and protect themselves, had likely not confided in me.
    So you may be thinking to yourself that what happened to me is so extreme that it is clear that it was wrong. That the current #metoo phenomenon is a bandwagon that women are jumping on. That harassment is different than abuse.
    From the receiving end of both I can tell you that it is all of a piece. Because it’s not really about sex. It’s all about power. It’s all about broken and damaged people breaking and damaging other people. It’s a pattern that perpetuates itself. It scars our souls and it is a pattern that is sustained by secrecy.
    We all have a chance right now to break this cycle. But to do that we have to…
    1) Believe women. Look around your family holiday table and realize that statistically one or more women around your table has been a victim of abuse and/or harassment. And statistically most of them have been. It takes so much courage to speak out. It is so much easier to stay silent. So believe women.
    2) Don’t dismiss the stories of women who don’t give their names when they come forward. Women don’t tell their stories because they feel they won’t be believed. Most of us believe in some way we brought this on ourselves.
    3) Understand that women who are talking to you about the latest figure outed for harassment or abuse may be working up the courage to tell their own story. So if you raise doubts about accusers you are sending the message that you will not believe your friend or loved one. This is not the time to parse or debate definitions.
    4) Understand that harassment and abuse are connected to the second class citizenship of women. Yes, abuse and harassment can happen to men and boys too. But statistically it happens to MOST women. I understand that for men this is an absolutely terrifying thought. Men have been raised that their job is to protect the women around them. But in our culture as it is, this is impossible.
    5) The way to protect women is to understand that the culture has to change. Someone who is a serial harasser may not be a rapist. But a culture that enables harassment will be one in which women and children will never be safe.
    6) Understand that women my age (55) have learned to “manage” harassment and abuse rather than speak the truth. We learned to change our own behavior, and avoid people and situations rather than call out danger. We feel guilty now that we were complicit by not speaking out and awed by women younger than us speaking truth to power. We know that by not speaking up we enabled other’s suffering. This is hard to bear.
    7) Some people, including women, are so terrified that they will dismiss women telling the truth to cling to their own perception of safety in the world. But the fact is we are not safe.
    8) We are forging a new reality of how we treat each other. And we will all make mistakes. We are all guilty. We will retreat into statements like “where does it stop? Can I never compliment someone again?” We have to do better, and we will, but it will be hard. All change is hard.
    So here is the very scariest thing. Our culture will not change until we all share our stories. Until people understand how prevalent harassment and abuse is in our culture they can’t understand why women are speaking out now and how important it is to believe women.
    We have a real opportunity to change our culture so that it is safe for everyone. But it will take all of us telling our stories and believing each other. And it will take all of us calling out those in our culture who persist in harassment and abuse.
    I’ve stepped way out of my comfort zone to share these secrets. Is it important enough to you to make the world safer for those you love to share yours?”

    Like

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