Monday, October 8, 2018

What We Move Towards & What We Leave Behind

You can't change a person's mind by force. I remember years ago, listening to a sermon. The speaker talked about a little boy who got in trouble and was told to sit down. He finally did and said,  "I'm sitting down on the outside but I'm standing up on the inside."

The point was clear. You may be able to enforce an action or a policy, but if you don't change a person's beliefs they'll only comply when they have to. For a while, my stepkids' mother lived with a guy who didn't believe in wearing seatbelts. This extended to the kids, from what they told me. Plus he'd put a 5-year-old in the front passenger seat with an airbag without a care for the safety risks. Of course, everything I knew was based solely on what the kids said...

Until he was killed in a car crash. Thrown because he wasn't wearing his seatbelt.

You can have a law. You may be able to punish people if they don't follow it. But you will not keep them from breaking that law if you don't convince them of the need for the law.

This is why totalitarian regimes fail. It's also why freedom of thought and expression scares some people so much. 

In many respects, Americans have never been more divided and it's been an exhausting time. What follows isn't easy for me to say, but by making a confession here, I think there might be some hope for a way forward. 

Several years ago,  I didn't have much sympathy for Anita Hill. 

Nothing I'm about to say justifies it. I can only,  in part,  explain. With that, perhaps there's insight into how some people think. 

With that comes the ability to change a person's thinking. 

When I was young I wanted to take karate. I was told that was for boys. 

I was raised in a small town. i was raised conservative. My dad was an early enthusiast for The Reform Party. 

I was studying journalism in college when Anita Hill's story unfolded. I didn't have a TV. This was before social media.. So largely,  what I knew about it was based on hearsay. However, I was assigned assistant editor on the college paper at some point after the Hill story had been going on for a while.  And I wrote an editorial about losing sympathy for women like her. 

How could I? You know, you have to think about how all the things we're told over the course of our lives affect how we think.

I grew up in the pre-bullying awareness days. You know what I commonly heard from parents and teachers.


Does anyone ever stop to explain to their young child the difference between tattling and reporting something serious? Instead of addressing the wrong thing another person said or did, you get told not to tell. The very act of reporting becomes the problem. 

If you don't like how someone talks or behaves, don't play with them. Translation: the solution is removing yourself.

Like so many women, I've been sexually assaulted. One occasion was at a dance when I was a teenager. 

It was around the same time that I was getting bullied. It was over a boy. I liked the same guy this other girl liked, but she was a street-savvy gal with some hard friends who'd already been expelled from school. I knew them by reputation only. They cornered me outside the building where one of those dances was held and beat me up. I mean, knocked my jaw offline so I have problems with it to this day. 

I never hit one of them back.

I stopped going to those dances.

The police wouldn't do anything about it. The incident didn't happen on school grounds - we had dances at a different location. However, the school finally got involved and transferred me to a different school in a different town.

Translation: send the problem away.

All of this affected how I thought. It colored my perspective. If I hadn't put myself in a bad situation (going to that dance, liking a boy another girl liked) I wouldn't have been beaten up by this pack of girls and I wouldn't have been sexually assaulted by this other boy.

In other words, it was kinda my fault.

Nobody ever told me that it wasn't. You can't blame my parents - you don't know how far they've come in their own lives. However, I look back and I think about the teachers and the school counselors and such and I think, "What the fuck?"

Small town conservative thinking. Now, you might be wondering why the school got involved. It got bad. I started missing school because I was constantly being threatened. And then, in the wake of the physical attack I had to have my appendix removed. I was in class right before that happened. An exam. And some girls were fooling around and the teacher didn't do anything about it. I finally lost it (call it a build-up of everything going on) and yelled at them to stop. 

The teacher ripped up my exam.

I ended up in the emergency room at the hospital and my parents ended up in the principal's office. And they were done putting up with what was going on.

The teacher got fired. I ran into him a few years later. He blamed me.

And you know what? I felt guilty.

So, back then, I heard about the Anita Hill thing and I heard that she followed him from one job to another. I didn't understand why anyone would do that if they thought what someone was doing was wrong.

It wasn't about whether I believed her or not. I don't remember if I did (and although I have a copy of that editorial I wrote here, I don't want the humiliation of reading it) or not, but I didn't have sympathy for a woman who claimed she was harassed and then put herself in a position for it to continue.

Some people I know these days really don't get that I was totally right wing in my thinking. And I voted to the right. 

I was surrounded by people who didn't want gay marriage. That was against God's plan. So touting a party as supporting gay rights was an automatic deterrent. No way were people obeying God going to cross that line.

But then something happened.

Well, a few somethings.

I traveled.

And when you travel, you start to see the world through different eyes. You have experiences that shape you. You're exposed to things that are different - ways of life, philosophies, societal structures. You start to look at things from a different vantage point, with a different perspective.

Then I worked at a Bible College. On an Island. I was an insulated as you could get, in many respects. Surrounding by people who were being taught to think a certain way about specific things, with a strong set of rules in place for how we all conducted ourselves.

But some things happened there. One was that a female student was raped by a male student.

You know what the higher ups told that girl? God commanded her to forgive. Since her attacker had "repented" she shouldn't go to the police and she should forgive him and remain at that residential school with him.

This while two members of the upper level of leadership at the school were having an affair.

For the first time my eyes really opened to a different kind of abuse. Spiritual abuse. People who use religion to control, manipulate and harm people.

It was a long, slow journey for me to change my thinking. And I fully understand that white women are a big part of the reason that the GOP retains power.

Some of them really don't know any better. You aren't up against one right or wrong situation. You're up against years of conditioning and spiritual abuse. Obey your husbands. Honor God with your actions. So your church tells you that God doesn't approve of gay people and your husband tells you to vote Republican and there it is.

And don't tattle. Wives, be subject to your husbands. Children, obey your parents.

And when someone hurts you, forgive them. Turn the other cheek.

Why on earth do you think it took so long for the victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to come forward?

You call it grooming. I call it spiritual abuse. It doesn't matter what we call it. 

We can't just look at a person and think they should see the world the way we do, and call them names when they don't.

I can look back on my thinking, and how I helped facilitate abuse by even working at that Bible college, and feel shame and guilt. 

I can also look at some (not all, but some) of these women who are blindly following along and I do have the ability to feel sympathy. For a lot of them, compliance with political ideology is intertwined with family. Their entire life structure is threatened by questioning that position. It's why a lot of little girls still don't tell on their daddy or anyone else that touches them. Shhh. Don't tattle. Forgive. Obey.

My friends on the left, you have to ask yourself if what you want to do is judge people or if what you want to do is really change hearts and minds. "Winning" isn't just about getting the highest number of people out in enough places on election day. That won't change anything for the long run, and when people who think differently start to feel threatened, they'll be back out in force.

The only way you really change things is if you get the majority of people thinking the way you do. 

This means getting churches to speak out against sexual assault. It means not telling kids not to tattle but rather teaching them when and what to report and to whom. 

It means helping people understand that it isn't their fault if someone touches them inappropriately. Nobody has that right.

It means helping people understand that forgiveness doesn't exempt a person from the consequences of their own action. You want to forgive your rapist? Fine, but the Bible still supports following the laws of the land, and that means reporting the crime and letting the justice system punish abusers and rapists.

It also means reassuring people that they will be supported. For some people, shifting politically may come with the threat of loss. We all know there are parents who reject their child for being gay or trans or having a mixed marriage.

There are parents who disown their children over politics, too.

I believe in equal rights. For women. For people who are gay. For people who are black, Hispanic, Native American. I believe that if you want fewer babies aborted then you need to educate people about birth control and make it available to them.

And if you want more people to have children then give them incentives. When I was growing up, Canada had the baby bonus plan, sending parents a check every month for every child that they had. It wasn't ridiculous money, but it was something. The government wanted to encourage natural population growth, so it put its money where its mouth was.

I also believe that a woman should govern her own body. I don't like abortion. I just don't think anyone should make that kind of decision for anyone else. If you've ever known anyone carrying a child that they know will not make it (as I have) or have known anyone who has died in childbirth (as I have) then you start to realize that not only shouldn't anyone else have the right to make that choice, but nobody in their right mind wants to be responsible for that choice. 

Forgiveness. And ultimately, if it's a sin, then let judgment be up to God.

This is how I've made my peace with a lot of things. I have moved all the way to the left because nothing is more important to me than people. I believe that a responsible government should take care of its people. I believe in helping people when they're down. Heck, the Bible admonishes people to be charitable and love others and be good to them. So why is it so hard to get people to move from the right to the left?

It's those tripping wires of gay rights and abortion. You have to ease people around them so that they see that the beauty of the left is that the main concern is taking care of people. Making sure that people who paid into their social security have it to rely on when they are old. Making sure that people have health care so that families don't have to go bankrupt because they choose between treating a sick child.

Some of these women have been so controlled their whole lives that the thought of losing their safety net - a system of behavior that has politics and religion and family acceptance often so entwined together that they may as well be one entity - is traumatic.

Many years ago, I was at a panel at Harrogate with a bunch of agents and editors and one of them said something that stuck with me. They said they aren't looking for a book that's completely original. What they wanted was something just a little bit different so that they could bridge the distance between what people are familiar with and a new story. In other words, they wanted to ask readers to move a few feet to try something fresh, rather than being in a position to ask them to move miles.

I'm proof that a person's thinking can change. Yeah, I thought Clinton should have been impeached. Still do, mind you. Because he lied. And as likable as Joe Biden is, go read up on Anita Hill before you tout Dems over Republicans in all things.

Democrats need to be for things, rather than against things. And they need to show themselves to be for things that people who think right of center have a hard time refuting. The truth is, although Dems may not come at their values from a religious perspective in most cases, their values are often far more Christian than what the Republicans herald. 

It's going to be a long road, but I'm going to tell you something else. We need to be far more proactive about a lot of things, because if there's one thing I hope people have understood from this post it's that language matters. The language we use (don't tattle) can affect a person's thinking and behavior deeply, and for a lifetime.

It means we have to stop sending mixed messages. We have to hold everyone to the same standard. 

Which means we can't start being sexist towards men. Let's uphold equality. And let's really think about what we're saying with our words and our actions, or our lack of actions. You want to understand why some men are threatened by the idea of women having true equality? Here you go. Really listen to what this commercial is saying - men are incapable. They have to rely on the woman to schedule everything and have constant reminders in order for things to get done.

And we wonder why some men might resist the idea of a woman being in charge? Nobody wants to be treated this way.

We have to start building a world where we show nobody has anything to fear from what's important to us. 2016 was won on fear, as was Kavanaugh's confirmation. 

Take away the fear. Show the positives that even right-thinking Christians can't dismiss, and you have helped people start to take some steps in the right direction. Winning an election isn't enough. It's a stop-gap, but it won't solve the problems in the long term if you don't change how people think.


Thomas Pluck said...

tough to read but thank you for sharing. So tired of these stories not being believed.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Me too. Also really weary of the need for them to be shared. I feel like we're fighting for the next generation though. Silence is far too permissive of all the horrific crap.

Danny Gardner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danny Gardner said...

It took a lot of courage to write this from the darker parts, Sandra. Thank you for taking the risk. I struggle with much of the same stuff. It's hard seeing a brighter path when your vision had been clouded for years. I feel you. Thanks.

Holly West said...

Great post, Sandra.