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#MeToo: On Perspectives, Listening, and Risk TakingJanuary 10, 2018

I was in a meeting recently discussing the take down of Harvey Weinstein and others accused of sexual harassment, and the rise of the #metoo campaign. We were freely exchanging opinions about these trends in culture, except for several men who declined to add to the conversation. When I asked them about their thoughts on the matter, and they replied that there wasn’t anything they were willing to add; because, they said, the truth was that they were only allowed to agree with the perspectives already in the room. As much I as prodded to elicit other points of view, they remained firm. They weren’t angry, resentful, or upset about it. They were just unwilling to risk a damn word.

As a mediator, I find this trend troublesome, but not uncommon. And though I am extremely supportive of the rigor in culture right now that calls out racism, demands an end to sexual harassment, or advocates for the fair treatment of all religious groups, I find it extremely problematic when this passion hardens into dogma, and the impulse to liberate becomes its own form of oppression. I am particularly aware that in our zeal to rid culture of these forms of abuse, we now throw due process to the wind, treating every offense, regardless of severity, as a high crime, and every person, regardless of true culpability, as already guilty. (Unless, of course, you are on the right of the political spectrum in which case, sexual harassment hasn’t even made it onto the national agenda).

Ken Wilber has written extensively about the ironic way in which the impulse towards inclusion and tolerance in pluralistic culture quickly becomes most intolerant and repressive when its politically correct orthodoxies aren’t adhered to. In other words, he argues that our attempts at inclusion quickly become exclusive when people disagree with us, our desire for egalitarianism becomes hierarchical when our views are challenged, and our attempts at justice go only so far as to extend to those whom we approve of. Ken reminds us that the ability to truly include multiple perspectives in our thinking and conversations is an achievement of human development, and when threatened, we all collapse into seeing just one truth. It is the way our brain works. When there is threat, complexity and nuance downgrades quickly to black and white thinking. It makes it easier to act.

With that in mind, how do we as a collective make change, finally giving attention, empathy, and real support to those who have suffered from sexual assault and harassment, while still creating room for additional considerations? How do we come to deeply understand how rampant and injurious it has been in so many contexts, while still finding a way to acknowledge all the men who are emotionally and sexually mature, and who conduct themselves with dignity and good taste in their relationships?  And how do we recognize the utter lack of opportunity victims have been given to simply be heard, let alone helped, while not immediately making new victims out of those who have been accused.

It is true that the moment to really listen to these stories of harassment and abuse is now — whether it is online, on the news channels, at the Golden Globes, or in conversation. We can listen to these accounts in a real and sustained way, coming to understand the threats that have arisen from attempting to speak out, including the loss of a job, your reputation, or worse, becoming a victim of even further violence.  Even now, Tina Johnson’s home in Alabama recently burned down. (She is one of the women who accused Roy Moore of harassment, and the loss of her house is being investigated as arson.)

We are in challenging territory. It is difficult for any of us to have conversations that include an array of perspectives, most particularly when culture is trying to make a long, overdue change. But while the collective can sound only one clear note at a time, repeating it over and over until it is integrated into our social norms, in our private conversations at dinner, with friends, and at work, there is ample room to practice including more voices, more experiences, and further nuance — maybe traveling a little further out on the learning curve than the mainstream conversation can go.  

We can accomplish this If we take pains to practice our listening skills. The problem is that we all think we are great listeners until we hear something that isn’t consistent with our current thinking. Then we become tense, contracted, and defensive, and the conversation loses it potential for expanding into new territory. In an atmosphere of political correctness, this is even more true, and real listening is often replaced with a compliant form of silence, which isn’t listening at all. To combat that, we have to calm ourselves in the face of disagreement, and even when uncomfortable, attempt to really listen. When we succeed and the most essential perspectives are deeply acknowledged, we create an opening for taking risks into even more perspectives and deeper learning.

For example, when we have really taken in the extent of the abuse and the injury, mainly to women, we can also presence the importance of due process, the role of proportionality, and the distinctions that must be made between that which is crude, but still possibly funny, to that which is distasteful, harassing, or downright criminal.  

Another viewpoint that we might consider putting on the table, even though it is certainly risky, is that as women, paradoxically, we stand to lose power by expecting all the learning and change to come from men. We give away our ability to fully participate in setting the tone, the terms, and the conditions of our own encounters, still passively relying on men for our comfort and safety. (See this piece, and this.) And we may unwittingly lose the support of mature men who, like the men in my meeting, don’t feel that they can contribute honestly to the conversation.

Another exploration that could arise is to deepen our understanding of consent, which is one theme at the heart of this conversation. By listening to one another, engaging our successes and failures, we may become better at getting clear agreements about our sexual engagements, learning to say or to hear yes without ambivalence, and express or receive a no clearly, without fear or anxiety. In the company of our friends and fellow learners, we may be more willing to look more closely at our own motives for engaging others erotically, including how we conflate power with erotic exchange; seeing when we combine pleasure and opportunity, and noticing that we all lose clarity when we mix sex and ambition.  

Finally, we might even go so far as to wonder what the role healthy sexuality has in our friendly relationships, even in the workplace. We might ask aloud whether in excluding all forms of flirtation, innuendo, and play, we are suggesting that all sexuality is by its very nature harmful and wrong. We might ask if, in an effort to prevent hostile work environment lawsuits, that we are allowing the most prudish among us to set the tone. And we might consider whether, in our effort to make sure no one ever feels a drop of discomfort, that we are re-creating a climate of sexual repression, encouraging our psyches to step backwards into private, and often more twisted, expressions of desire. I can’t help but think of the dour, grim faces of those from the Victorian era, or the number of perverted priests in churches, and these images make me want to stand for the eradication of sexual harassment within the context of free and healthy sexual expression.

When there is the freedom to truly exchange perspectives, when we can practice listening better and hearing more, and when we can risk with each other, offering up new, sometimes dicey points of view, there is potent potential for learning and for compassion. We become capable of navigating through these perspectives in a way that honors the truth in each of them, but still creates a hierarchy of perspectives which offers best and the highest for everyone. That’s not an easy thing to do. But it is far more interesting, informative, and helpful than insisting there is only one way to see things, and therefore, only one way to act.


 

Join Diane Musho Hamilton for an upcoming 2-hour Master Class
#MeToo: On Perspectives, Listening, and Risk Taking

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
9:00 am PST | 10:00 am MST | 12:00 pm EST

This Master Class will be a live teaching, discussion and practice opportunity for exploring perspectives related to the cultural phenomenon of the #MeToo movement. Come prepared to engage in live video conversation and practices designed to develop skills, deepen awareness, and build confidence for risky and challenging conversations on this topic.

Learn More and Register Here


Diane Musho Hamilton
Co-Founder and Lead Teacher, Integral Facilitator®
Author, Everything is Workable, a Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution and The Zen of You and Me: A Guide to Getting Along to Just About Anyone

 

11 comments

Welde Carmichael

Diane,

Thank you for this very thoughtful and well-crafted article; this is one of the best things I have read in quite some time. I am wondering if you have any additional thoughts on two topics that I am currently having a difficult time unifying within my own psyche: civil discourse and emotional truth. I have witnessed recently group facillitations where one person’s need to express his/her emotional truth can reach the point of yelling and shouting (but still done within the language of “When you act this way, it makes me feel…” As a third-party witnessing the outburst I felt that the tone was excessive and unnecessary. The facilitator allowed this highly charged emotional expression to continue, and the person yelling rationalized his/her behavior under the guise of “speaking his/her truth.”

In my opinion we are in a cultural moment where a guiding tenant is that essentially anything is okay to voice, so long as it is a person’s “truth.” So much of what people have to say, however, is unnuanced and divisive. The famous actress Asia Argento wrote on Twitter regarding Catherine Deneuve (and her support of a letter in Le Monde):

“Catherine Deneuve and other French women tell the world how their interiorized misogyny has lobotomized them to the point of no return.”

I use these examples to ask this question: How does one (a facilitator, a friend, etc.) appropriately guide a conversation back into civil discourse and reason while still allowing an individual’s pain, vulnerability to be genuinely heard? What does that facilitation successfully look like?

I understand that a response to this question is a lot to ask, so any guidance (in whatever form) is much appreciated.

~Welde Carmichael

Diane Hamilton

That is an awesome question, and right at the heart of some of our challenges now. For me, it is always important to be clear about what the intention of the dialogue is, and to put ground rules in place that support the intention of the conversation. When topics may get hot, you can ask a group what level of emotional intensity they are willing to hear. If a group agrees to high intensity, so be it. But if not, then the facilitator may have to ask participants to take it down a level. I will often say, “I care about what you are saying, but it would be easier to listen, if you can bring the intensity down.” I have had great success with that intervention. Some groups have very little tolerance for heat; others benefit by including it. Thanks for writing.

Welde

Thank you Diane. I really appreciate the reply, and your answer is very concrete and constructive.

Fatzer Gerhard , Prof. Dr.

Die Me Too Diskussion in den USA ist total festgefahren. Darum beteiligen sich zu Recht auch keine reflektierten Männer mehr daran. Und die Fotos von Seal haben gezeigt, dass selbst eine Oprah Winfrey ein unehrliches Doppelspiel spielt. Catherine Deneuve und Juliette Binoche haben unaufgeregt, kulturell bewusst und “humble” im Sinne unseres Freundes Ed Schein, “vorurteilslos” (“Humble Consulting”, his newest book at B and K and Carl Auer) gezeigt, wie reife Frauen reagieren. Juliette Binoche hat dem Schleimsack Weinstein gesagt, was sie von ihm hält. Sie hat nicht die korrupte Kultur Hollywoods genutzt, um ihre Karriere voranzutreiben. Betrachten wir die Debatte aus der Optik von Bill Isaacs “Dialogue – the art of thinking together”, so ist der Dialog bei MeToo in der Krisenphase “I am my own position”. Und die Französinnen, alles Klassiker des Films, haben gezeigt, wie es weiterginge bei uns in Europe. Chapeau for Deneuve and Binoche.

And as I have been living in the US and worked at UCLA, M.I.T. and Harvard for two years. Here is the English version:
The meToo discussion in the US is totally stuck. That s the reason why understandably no reflective and mature men are participating in it any more.
Instead, like a good facilitator or Organization Development expert, we observe. We look at the patterns of behavior and at the actions. This represents what we call “The spirit of Inquiry” (Warren Bennis) and what our friend Edgar Schein in his newest books “Humble Consulting” describes as “humble”.
This is an attitude which is used in good interventions, which are cultural interventions.
The actions are the talk of Oprah Winfrey, which was a call for action and an encouragement to voice.
In the “dialogue” approach of our M.I.T. friend Bill Isaacs “Dialogue or the art of thinking together”, voicing is one of the core competencies. the other ones are deep listening, respecting and suspending. Those are missing right now.
Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche and all the French actors or writers showed an attitude of “reflected action”. Juliette Binoche, when approached by the slimy Weinstein, was reacting in a way to re install respect. Setting limits.
In the US with the talk of Winfrey, which was a call for “voicing” we have now the two fotos of Seal showing fotos where Winfrey is showing actions which contradict what she talked about.
It illustrates what Seal calls “hypocrite”. Also the young actress between them. Winfrey was “giving in”. She knew about the “culture of Hollywood”, the mentally and psychologically sick system of Weinstein. We can presently watch the similar “hypocrit culture” at the white house with a president, who is evidently psychologically sick and emotionally retarded. Is there a movement to replace him or to bring his behavior to court and correct this “Error of american History”.
We can see different examples of “Cultural blindness” in the US. These are just two examples.
So dear American friends, there is a lot to do. Replace the president, and of course also the vice president, who is religiously blinded. Otherwise you become the shithole country that is now seen in the “blinded projections” of the worst President that America had in its history. This is a wake up call for your country which now was pushed back about 50 years in its history.

Diane Hamilton

I think a lot of us would agree about the leadership of this country right now, and also the state of our dialogues. Personally, I am putting some hope into the 2018 mid-term election. I hope the democrats sweet and Trump is impeached. Thanks for your comment.

Keith Martin-Smith

Thank you for this beautiful piece of nuanced writing, Diane. You helped to provide a beautifully integral take on the strengths and traps of this emerging movement of consciousness. I felt both seen and soothed by your words.

Diane Hamilton

Thank you, Keith, for commenting…

angry

As a Right wing Male over 50, Married for 25 years, I have no say according to you, Why did politics enter into that article? Shame on you for not only dividing sexes but dividing with politics. Your article became opinion from fake news

Diane Hamilton

I believe I am saying the opposite. I want to create conversations that include more perspectives, not fewer.

Al

Hello, Where are the students of Human Nature and the centuries of Wisdom we have?. Females bait men and Men bait females. It is as natural as one blinking one’s eyes.. This sense of innocence and an a supposedly rebirth of morality motivations is so hypocritical. Men sell their physical structure as well as women. The use Reason.. for most of us does not control desire and appetites. Why are some so slow to learn this fundamental premise of Life. The use of Politics trying to align with Morality is taking the low road perhaps reaching down into the sewer. Day in and day out our culture outlets are saturated with the accent on Physical preparation to engage with the opposite sex and even a National dialogue will not prevent the human being from physical attraction flowing out of the human pores of the body. We live in a Sensate driven culture. Only those who pursue wisdom will survive with a sincere driven return to Morality at best expressed within the Christian Scriptures that have endured for 20 centuries for those who heed the advice given there in. There are so many perspectives now on how to live sensibly with each other as male and female. Let us employ what we already should know and those who do that will be fine in their relationships. We need to tend more to our own behaviours. Those who really want advice there are plenty of existing services now available. I thank you in advance. al

Ellen Sprenger

Thank you Diane for this eloquent and courageous piece! The moral outrage of #metoo is demanding and commanding space. It is how we grow, learn and become more expansive and whole as people and societies. We shine the light on what has been oppressed and kept in the shadows in order to include it and then transcend. And, as you describe so well, it is also a partial / single perspective carrying with it the danger of new forms of dogma and sexual repression. So here is what I’d like to suggest. As we find our voice and power of collective outrage let’s at the same time create more spaces for exploring feminist flirtation, desire and pleasure. And not just as women and men, but all genders. That would be so much fun! Maybe we can play with the polarity ‘boundaries’ and ‘suspending judgment’?

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