“When power is used in a non-consensual situation, it is a wrong. Men who improperly harass or assault do not do so because they are gay or straight — that is a deflection. They do so because they have the power, and they chose to abuse it.” ~ George Takai, with the Hollywood Reporter

George Takai, actor, director, activist and author. Press photo.

Mr. Takai is one of the first I’ve seen in the public conversation that’s surfaced in the wake of the #metoo and Weinstein & Pals ‘scandal’ to get that it’s about an abuse of power, which foments a sense of supremacism and entitlement, as much as it is about misogyny and the other ugly expressions that stem from an abuse of (perceived or actual) power.

I’ve long said that greed and other Deadlies make people stupid, and reckless, and too often cruel.

Sure, there may also be a Narcipath factor that limits the degree of empathy and sense of consequence that inhibit non-Narcipathic people from stepping over respectful boundaries.

But that abuse of power is at the root of all manner of actions and expressions that ultimately harm individuals and the culture we live in.

It’s a sickness; no healthy person acts in such ways, and no healthy culture perpetuates it as a norm. Yet that doesn’t excuse the power abuse and resulting behavior that diminishes and harms others.

Envy, one of the Seven Deadlies, 1947, by Paul Cadmus. Painting resides at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

We’ve seen from the stories that have come forth that this isn’t just an issue in Hollywood; a lot of women, and men, already know that. It’s not just a problem in the United States, nor is it a new or recent problem.

It’s long-running, and it’s systemic — a poison that seeps into any place or relationship where there’s a perceived power imbalance … someone perceiving that they’re in a position of power over another person, and choosing to abuse that power.

They know they’ll get away with it, they feel untouchable, because the people around them collude and let them get away with it, riding on the coattails of that power.

The stories have emerged from Hollywood, yes, as well as from religious communities and churches; companies; politics; community organizations; universities and schools; and homes.

To act in such a way requires this sense of ‘power over’ and entitlement to it, but it’s also long required that the ‘other’ be in some way dehumanized.

That combination allows atrocity, and what monk and mystic Thomas Merton called the unspeakable, but a cultural ‘toxic-normal’ is what allows it to flourish.

People look the other way, shame the victim, make excuses for the perpetrators. In spiritual communities where spiritual abuse flourishes, we might hear that “it’s the Lord’s will” or “it’s your (or their) karma.”

Lilian Gish in the silent film, The Scarlet Letter.

These and other belief systems are ways to offload any sense of responsibility, let alone the trouble of empathy and conscience, and having to act on it.

But it’s hard for people of conscience, decency, and empathy to truly dissociate from it, so it’s soul-corrosive. It eats away at us.

When I think of the systemic and long-running nature of it, like a rampant and well-entrenched virus, it’s overwhelming, and it’s tempting to let the apathy take over. I know that’s the case for many of the people I hear from and speak with.

Save Our Souls, by Evelyn de Morgan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Yet this is where having the intention to not look away, to not ignore it, to be, in some way, ‘medicine‘, and to choose to act in ways that are honoring, that do call it out, that do not shame and blame the victim or brush it off.

Old fashioned virtues, really, have long been seen to be the medicine for their more toxic opposites … the Deadlies of envy, greed, and so on.

Choosing to be kind, to be gracious, to be courageous in saying “Hey, that’s not an okay way to treat people (or animals, etc.)” instead of looking the other way or laughing it away … going along to get along; to let someone know “I see what’s going on and it’s not okay, and it’s not your fault.”

There are other medicine-virtues; we’re all called to various of them. And those inspire us — they’ve inspired me — to take them wherever we are, into whatever places or work we’re called towards (or are doing).

We begin to rehumanize (and refuse to collude in the dehumanizing) wherever we notice that dehumanizing has become a too-easy norm.

Faceless Mannequins. PD image from Public Domain Pics.

You can tell by the language — whenever entire groups of people are stuffed into a single word that signals ‘reviled other’, usually with a tone of voice that’s derisive. That’s one clue.

Women. Men. White People. Black People. The Homeless. The Needy. Liberals. Feminists. Conservatives. Muslims. Christians. Tree Huggers. The Poor. Slackers. Witches. Heretics. The Unsaved. No-Loads. Animals. Worthless. Trash. And on, and on, and on.

In corporatized or bureaucratic jargon, people become resources or consumers or numbers — or in one large corporate change project I consulted on, maximally engineered units (they were referring to people, I kid you not, until we made an issue of it) — terms that make it easier to use, abuse, exploit, dismiss.

We can see, hear, and feel it; it tends to give us a knot in the gut, feels ‘not right’, makes us a little sick, weighs on our conscience, or wakes us up in the wee hours with the thought of it.

Dehumanizing language helps to normalize dehumanizing violation and atrocity. We can also choose to be more specific with our criticisms rather than painting everyone in a large group of people with the same dehumanizing brush, and more mindful in our choice of rehumanizing language.

It’s a subtle activism with not-so-subtle effects, because it informs how we show up, as well as any other kinds of expression, action, or activism … or the radical activism of acting kindly and decently in cultures where bullying is a norm and decency is routinely violated.

Big Love,