Can We Create a New System?

Claims about finding the good in the bad have always made me cringe. I loathe the idea of seeking silver linings. I once took a workshop in which we were to write a love letter to our pain — accepting it and telling what we learned from it. Huh? Why can’t pain just be pain? Why cannot bad things just be bad things? Why the need to dress and put lipstick on the bad?

Even the little things. What is the good from a mouse infestation, or a clogged drain, or a garage door that has been non-functional for three weeks? 

Or the bigger things. A hostile work environment, a chronic disease, a break up of a long-term relationship, the suicide of a friend. What is the good that one should squeeze from these? Why do we need to? 

Over the past few months, I found some tension in conversations with friends and students about reports of powerful men serially preying on the less powerful. A friend attempted to toast the downfall of predatory men — and it felt flat to me. Even before #MeToo, our multiple shared experiences had long established the prevalence and personal pain of these crimes, but now those coming forward uncovered an epidemic and opened our eyes to the systemic structures that support predators. 

Remarkably, action came quickly on many incidents. Some abusers lost their positions of power. This is good. But it doesn’t feel celebratory. While I am “happy” and “grateful” that these men no longer hold their positions, is gratitude possible for small measures of justice amidst widespread hurt?

Yes, the culture has shifted, at least momentarily. We finally seem ready to listen to those who tell of pain and confront their attackers. We are exposing crimes and condemning certain behaviors. 

Seemingly there is much to celebrate: The opening of dark places, the confronting of despicable crimes, the long overdue and slowly budding cultural awareness of oppression. 

Perhaps we can hope that this opens up a full awareness and accounting of oppression, patriarchy, misogyny, and power in all institutions. At the very least, the toppling of each powerful man who used power to prey upon and silence those he attacked removes a specific threat. We are in a better place than we were a few months ago. 

Yet, over the past two years, more than a dozen women have shared sickening encounters with one very powerful man. Even a video of him bragging about how he uses his power to assault women did not deter his supporters. Many of us know predators who will never be held accountable, and we know that assaults will continue. 

While celebration and joy seem far away on this issue, I find gratitude for those who risked much to place themselves at the center of this movement. Those who named an attacker, those who tweeted a painful #MeToo, forced this discussion. We can be truly grateful for their sacrifices, while also supporting the vast majority of women and men who still remain silenced. 

We cannot be grateful for the experiences reported. We cannot be grateful for the systems that continue to allow assault. We cannot be grateful for our own complicity in these systems. But voices too long silenced are speaking. 

Let us open the space to hear as many of these voices as we can. 

Let us combat the forces that seek to silence, to call an end to the discussion, to minimize personal experience.

Let us courageously embrace the challenge offered by those who are speaking for those who remain silenced and take time to sit back, learn, and reflect on the systems and our own behaviors that support these systems. 

In our workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes, let us seek, hear, and validate those who have been silenced.

Let us work to create a world in which those with power no longer prey on those less powerful.