I’m not even sure where to start this one. I’m not perfect. Never have been. Likely never will be. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done things that would be classified as sins by religious people – lots of things. I swear like a sailor. I can be terribly sarcastic and sometimes downright rude. I have a temper. I know throughout the course of my life I’ve said or done something to someone that was hurtful or upsetting. It may have been deliberate. It may have been accidental. It may have been completely random and I may never have seen that person again. I think any human being traversing this plane of existence and interacting with others has a reality similar to this one. We are none of us perfect…
What we seem to have though, since time immemorial, is an attitude of condemnation. It doesn’t seem to be cultural. It’s not regional or hemispherical. It seems to be a human condition. A flaw of sorts. It’s disturbing.
Nothing seems to be immune. Often enough, the justice system functions as it should. Criminals are investigated, captured and prosecuted to the letter of the law. They are required to pay their debt to society. Some are even rehabilitated and are given the opportunity to become productive members of society once released. But the justice system is proven time and again as being flawed. Persons indicted for crimes have been proven innocent, years, decades after being convicted, after serving time in prison. Posthumous pardons are not unheard of. The miscarriage of justice is not an exceptional occurrence; it happens every day. The disproportionate prosecution of African Americans and other persons of colour in the United States should be a case study for the ages as it relates to the effects of prosecutorial errors and general and racial bias on societies. Prisons are overcrowded with persons arrested and charged with misdemeanours that revised laws now issue fines for. But by the time the revisions are done, it’s too late. A record has been created that will follow these persons for the entirety of their lives.
In the realm of personal condemnation, it’s the same. Social media has provided a platform for outing, criticising and shaming persons who have behaved in ways that are less than appropriate. Businesses provide employees with platforms that facilitate whistleblowing and reporting misconduct. It should be straightforward. It’s not. Nothing involving people ever is. Ever will be. Personal agendas interrupt the carriage of justice. Dishonest people muddy the process.
And so, I watched the incident with George Takei unfold. I don’t know him personally. I barely know him professionally. I had no particular point of reference when the allegation of sexual misconduct arose. The platform on which I first saw the news story is one that I had recently followed and had come to respect. It’s largely opinionated and a lot of the sentiments expressed on it mirror my own. In this instance, the accompanying post was brutal. The condemnation was extreme. The vilification was complete. I read the post before I read the story. And I was appalled. There were so many holes in the story, bits and pieces obviously missing and the general tone of it was, to me a survivor myself, suspect. But the ball was already rolling. Followers of the page were expressing opinions and most of it was vitriolic. Takei was condemned in the court of public opinion and that was that. To quote one person ‘Throw the who Takei away’…
And then… The accuser recanted. Again, I happened upon the story on the same timeline. All things considered, especially the fact that the accuser was the one to admit that he’d lied, embellished and what have you, I expected some amount of contrition, a little bit of remorse. There was none. Again, appalled. To his credit, Mr Takei dealt with the entire matter with a level of grace and dignity that has become a rarity in this era. He apologized unequivocally when accused. And accepted the accuser’s recanting with little more than a statement thanking him for clearing the air and also wishing him well.
I can’t understand it. The judgement was swift. But there is clearly no forgiveness to be found in the eyes of the judges. Even in the face of what should be uncontested acquittal. And I wondered how we can be so blind, so cold, so self-righteous.
Imagine if you will, a person with whom you’d previously interacted, coming forward to say that you’d hurt them many years ago. There is no record of your action. There are no scars to support their story. You know that it’s not true. But no one cares. No one believes you. They automatically take the side of your accuser. You are not afforded the opportunity to defend yourself, to tell your side of the story. There is no due process for you. You are not innocent until proven guilty. Your name is sullied, your reputation is tarnished, you lose money, time, friends… And then, the person makes an about turn, ‘psych’, ‘just kidding’, ‘I got it all wrong’, ‘I was just looking for attention’, ‘I wanted revenge’… What then? How would you feel?
I support the #metoo movement and the spirit in which it was launched. I support the persons who have come forward, who have told their stories. I weep for the ones still too afraid to come forward yet. I am inspired by the solidarity it has created. I am hopeful and thankful for the positive changes it will cause in male-female interactions. And I am terrified about the effects personal agendas will have on the movement and the persons who suffer because of them. Because too many of us are only too gleeful to mete out judgement. We often, in the face of sins we deem greater than our own, jump quickly to condemnation. We forget that we have hurt, offended or damaged even one person in our wake… And we are too slow to forgive others while demanding forgiveness for ourselves.
Let justice, such as it is, run its course. Let the accused have the opportunity to face their accuser and defend themselves. Otherwise the spirits of condemnation and self-righteousness will overwhelm and consume the intentions of a movement intended to highlight, hold accountable and heal. Let us, imperfect as we are, not be so quick to cast the first stone…