With all due respect to the victims, I am refraining from condemning all the men in high places who are being dethroned for sexual misconduct. I do not condone their behavior, but I also don’t want to “lock them up and throw away the key.” These men are part of our society or as a Hawaiian elder told me, “Everyone is in the same canoe; no one is outside the canoe.”
As a recovering sexist, one of the most powerful practices that helped me treat women better was imagining them as my sister, mother, or daughter. What if we imagined Harvey Weinstein as our brother, son, or father? Wouldn’t we want to rehabilitate him and bring him back into the family?
When my aunties in Hawaii would see someone do something harmful, they would say, “awwwwhhh, poor thing.” They felt sorry for individuals who were so disconnected with aloha (love) that they felt the need to cause conflict with others. In essence, my aunties were saying, “Awwwhhhh, poor thing, he has no aloha.”
I remember hearing about a mother in Australia whose young daughter was abducted, sexually abused, and murdered. The authorities caught the perpetrator and found him guilty. At the sentencing, the reporters asked the mother what she thought the man who killed her daughter deserved. Did she want him to rot in jail or die immediately?
“I think he deserves love, because only someone who has been denied love would have done something like this to my daughter,” she said.
One could argue that men who sexually assault women are getting too much love, but they definitely lack compassion. When we empathize with the suffering of others, we are less likely to cause others to suffer.
If one of my sons were ever charged with a heinous crime, I would take responsibility for not raising them to be compassionate men. As the survivor of child abuse, I know first hand how abuse travels down the family line like a cancer. The only thing I’ve found to stop this epigenetic disease is compassion. When I am compassionate to myself, then I can be compassionate with my sons. When I treat my sons with compassion, they treat each other compassionately. When I yell at them and spank them, they yell at each other and hit each other.
Father Richard Rohr, who served as a chaplain in jails for decades, noticed that one of the things that most inmates had in common was bad or absent fathers. He also told me a story about elephants. In Africa, a group of adolescent male elephants were running amuck—overturning cars, knocking down trees, fighting. Some researchers came in and discovered that all the older bull elephants had been poached, so these young elephants had no role models.
When the researchers flew in older bull elephants, all the bad behavior stopped. The older male elephants taught the younger male elephants how to act.
I don’t know if Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, et al. had bad or absent fathers, but they definitely were not taught how to act compassionately. We could ostracize them or “put them down,” or we could role model how to treat others who are suffering and bring them back into the herd. What better way to role model compassion than to offer it to someone who has been so disconnected that they have hurt others?
The Dalai Lama once said, “Many times I am asked if I am angry at the Chinese for what has happened. Sometimes I lose some temper, but afterward, I get more concern, more compassion towards them. In my daily prayer, I take in their suffering, their anger, and ignorance … and give back compassion. This kind of practice I continue.”
The Tibetans believe in treating enemies as “precious jewels” because adversaries give us our greatest opportunities to deepen our patience, tolerance, and compassion.
Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, and other men accused of sexual misconduct offer us an opportunity to raise the bar of compassion. Can we offer these sons, brothers, and fathers patience, tolerance, and compassion or are we going to react with a lack of compassion that may resurface in our own sons, fathers, and brothers?
Photo: Getty Images