Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tough Love in the Neighborhood

I have not blogged in a bit: I’ve watched, and have kept my distance, from the furor rising up in the Pagan community over the Kenny Klein scandal.  (For my readers who do not know, Kenny Klein was a well-known member of the Pagan community.) I’ve read a few posts, and I have hung my head in sadness, wringing my hands and gritting my teeth, and I have gone on in with this event and my own thoughts and emotions about it in the back of my mind.

I have not commented on it before now because I am not a member of the Pagan community. My comments on the matter are much like any comments I might make about sexual misconduct in any other community. Although I interact with members from other communities—anywhere from parents with kids, to the elderly, to Jews, to Catholics, to GBLT, to bikers—this doesn’t make me part of these communities either. Take my opinion for what it is—the opinion of an outsider. You’ve heard it said that “no one person is an island” and this is true: humanity is at least as much based on interactive relationships among humans as it is on individual humans. The Pagans are my neighbors, and I have a relationship to them as a neighbor. I am not my neighbor, I am not “the same as” my neighbor, and I don’t live in my neighbor’s house, even as I live next to my neighbor and interact with my neighbor on an ongoing basis.

As a neighbor not just to one community, but to other neighboring communities who live around me, I am obligated to speak up if there’s a problem. When I see a neighbor constantly leaving garbage on the patio instead of disposing of it, I am obligated to point out that it is a health hazard. Living around humans, it is a statistical probability that most of us will run into a bad egg within our own communities. It’s the old cliché that 5% of the people make 95% of the problems. It sucks, but that’s how it is. How we respond to these matters shapes not only oneself as an individual, but one’s community as well, and it can affect one’s neighbors too.

The reason why I speak on this matter is because of some of the shenanigans about the recent scandal(s) in the Pagan community and how a few in that community think that people should be helpful and healing, especially in regards to perpetrators. A few folks’ way of defining helpful and healing has nothing to do activities that are actually helpful or healing, and are instead more based on providing comfort, on feel-good emotions and feelings, on suppressing anger, on appearing nice, and on keeping a peace built on a dysfunctional status quo.

The Pagan community—at least some folks in it—often wants to love and be loved (or maintain a loving, peaceful appearance) so much that it forgets that holding down a perpetrator in a submission hold of group-hug will not solve the problem, undo the crime, or support a culture where doing these crimes is at the very least condemned. I attribute some of these problems to a growing political (in-)correctness surrounding cultural relativity and moral relativity taken to extremes. I also attribute some of this problem to a lack of taking personal responsibility in knowing and assessing standards, motives, and emotions.

Loving is a great and beautiful thing, but too often people confuse love with being nice, avoiding conflict, suppressing anger, and keeping an unworthy peace built on a moral ambiguity which would shelter those who prey on the weak. Peace is not any of those things; love is not any of those things. Turning the other cheek does not mean allowing someone defenseless to take that hit. When one turns the other cheek with those who harm children, this is what happens.

To love truly, one must have a clear understanding of what love is, a full understanding of one’s own emotions, one’s motives, and one’s standards, and a full accounting of one’s priorities...or all that love is for naught. Priorities include safety and healing for the victims, catching perpetrators, and supporting justice. Without this, none of that love can be fully expressed or accepted: there are potential victims, PTSD and lack of safety for the victims already harmed, and an ongoing predatory opportunism for the perpetrators. This environment kills any chance at love and can actively support an unwanted cycle of abuse. If you really want to support love and healing, this has got to stop.

I know that most of you will be nodding along here, there is nothing new here and I’m making no ground-breaking statements or revealing the structure of the cosmos. Three basic matters come to my mind:

1. Standards are useful.

Having standards of behavior, norms, ethics, morals, and boundaries are useful and help life-as-we-know-it-among-humans to function in a beneficial manner. Sticking to these standards and supporting others in your community to stick to these standards is important. Having standards is about being good people and acting like good people. Standards are about protecting oneself, each other, and those who cannot protect themselves. You don’t have to codify these standards or set them in stone. Even Google says simply “Don’t be evil.”

A few Pagans (a few, not some, not all, and probably not you if you’re Pagan and you’ve bothered to read this far) balk at the idea of having standards, and think that standards are some kind of Christian Puritan fundamentalist values stripping away at freedoms. Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, nurse, teacher, soldier, that guy walking his dog…most people have standards, most communities have standards. Even shopping malls have codes of conduct.

It is important to avoid using religion as a reason for sexual oppression, or on the other side of the same spectrum, as an excuse for sexual irresponsibility. Ethical standards, even in regards to sex, have nothing to do with any kind of spiritual or emotional tyranny, and nothing to do with any particular religion or lack thereof. Responsibility is not oppression—responsibility is a natural outgrowth of maturity, strength, priorities, caring, and love.

2. Hurting kids is bad.

Sexual abuse, child pornography, rape, pedophilia, and so on, are all bad, evil, not good, and worse-than-useless. Period. No debate, no contingencies, no explanations, no excuses, and I won’t even bother to rank any of these transgressions on a scale of wrongness. There’s no point. Sexual irresponsibility is wrong. Hurting kids is wrong. Combining the two is wrong. Wrong.

3. Healing is painful.

I’ve seen some stuff bantered about regarding how people who hurt kids are sick and need healing. I am far more concerned about the victims, their healing, and their safety. Their road to healing is long and difficult and the hurt caused to the victims has nothing to do with the victims or their own choices. The abuses done to them ruin lives.

I support the perpetrator getting healing if mostly to prevent further acts of abuse. People who commit these crimes are indeed sick—this is a given. This doesn’t change the fact that they are often at least in some way cognizant, aware, and responsible for their actions, and often just as capable as anyone of making their own decisions. They usually know that these actions hurt others and these actions should and do have consequences for them in the form of punishment and social censure.

Healing a perpetrator has nothing to do with “if I just love him/her hard enough s/he will change.” No. It doesn’t work that way. A person has to change him or herself. It is possible to love a perpetrator just as it is possible to love someone or something that has gone horribly, horribly wrong. (I neither endorse nor condemn loving a perpetrator. I condone honesty with oneself about the matter.) Trying to err on the side of love—if one chooses to do so—does not mean that one allows the wrongdoing to continue.

There’s a tale about a boy who has to put down a dog because the dog contracts rabies—it’s called Old Yeller. The boy put down his dog as an act of love. It’s very complex, messy, deep, and nuanced to love a being so completely as to acknowledge and honestly assess what is going on with that being, and to take action necessary to preserve the safety of others and to protect (what is left of) that being’s dignity and any shred of its highest self (if it has one). The boy also loved his family enough to protect them and to set and maintain boundaries. I am not making a blanket statement that perpetrators should be put down like rabid dogs. If you want to, and you want to deal with those consequences including jail time for murder one, that’s all on you. (Don’t blame me for your own decisions and choices! Besides, people are not the same as dogs, rabid dogs, or fictional stories about fictional rabid dogs.) I am illustrating that love can be a complex and an uncomfortable thing that involves a humbling honesty and a clear-headed assessment. Sometimes love is not feel-good emotions, happy thoughts, and glitter. Often love means making the toughest decisions of one's life.

However, if a person really wants to love a perpetrator—I am not suggesting that that is a good or bad thing, or if it is necessary or not—a person must understand what that kind of love entails. It’s not all s’mores and affirmations, it sure isn’t martyrdom, and it sure the hell isn’t allowing a perpetrator continued contact with children. Loving someone means acknowledging that person as that person is, not as you think they are, as you think they should be, or as you hope they will be, but as that person is right now. As Is. No guarantees. Just as some used cars are lemons, so some people are lemons too; if you drive a lemon off the lot, don’t be surprised when the transmission blows. Sometimes that person is just not a good person at that point in time, sometimes they never were, or sometimes they never will be again. One has to fully account for this. Loving someone who has done something like this means setting healthy boundaries for oneself and for those one protects. Those boundaries involve reporting, banning from events, restraining orders, court cases, and jail time. It means setting rules and cultural standards in place to deter or prevent these problems, and setting up contingencies for protecting the vulnerable if something like this, gods forbid, comes up again. Sometimes loving someone means saying no and backing that no with action consistently.

Forgiveness is something that often gets brought up in these discussions. A perpetrator can ask for forgiveness or not. A person can forgive or chose not to. That’s up to each person involved to decide, and it is a deeply personal matter. I don’t see either forgiving or not forgiving as “good” or “bad,” and my opinion does not and should not matter here anyway. Forgiving doesn’t make someone a doormat any more than not forgiving makes anyone a monster. Along with consideration in giving or receiving forgiveness are reparations that have to be done to ensure that the act is not repeated and to (try to) make up for the wrong that has been committed. And whether or not one chooses to forgive, both parties should remember that forgiveness is not a blank check.

So, neighbors, if you were remotely curious, these were my two shekels on what has been a sad situation.

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