By Norris Burkes
Nov 26 2017
Recently, we’ve been outraged to hear of the sexual harassment charges against some prominent and respected men.
While it’s no surprise to hear about Charlie Sheen’s dalliances, we’re beyond dismayed to hear about such men as Charlie Rose. While Bill Clinton had his accusers, nothing prepared us for the indictments against the likes of Bill Cosby.
The epidemic finger-pointing hasn’t even escaped Congress. Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Wiener will soon begin his 21-month prison sentence. In the meantime, accusations fly about Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
“What’s to be done?” we ask.
The answer became more than obvious to me as I walked toward Times Square last week.
At a busy intersection, I noticed what seemed to be an abandoned bag. I asked a man standing about 10 feet away, “Is this your bag?”
He said it was, so I moved on.
I was, of course, following the advice of the national anti-terrorism campaign, “If you see something, say something.”
The Times Square encounter suggests how we might adapt the slogan to address sexual harassment in our workplace.
“Can it be so simple as to just say something?” you ask. Yes, it can be effortless — particularly when we address harassment that is so glaringly obvious as was the unaccompanied bag.
Still, it is admittedly hard when we are required to oppose it in everyday living.
For instance, what do you say when a co-worker whispers a word about a woman’s dress or your relative comments about a person’s anatomy at a holiday dinner party?
I pose these questions because I believe sexual harassment has a simple beginning. It often begins in innocuous conversations at a neighbor’s house or at an office party. Those conversations degrade and someone mutters a sexually inappropriate comment. Not wanting to seem a prude, we take a sudden and silent interest in our shoes.
I believe we can condition ourselves to say something by planning our response. We can say something like, “Dude, that ain’t right.” Or, “If she were my sister, I wouldn’t appreciate that.”
I know it can be scary to speak out. You don’t know if anyone is going to back you up or exclude you from feature social events because they see you as too prudish or judgmental.
Yes, the price of calling someone out can be your personal embarrassment. But the price grows exponentially when a particularly boorish person receives not a single word of resistance.
Most of us are likely familiar with the 18th-century Irish orator, philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, who said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
In the past, we’ve excused our silence, insisting that we don’t want to appear judgmental. Yet today, in the 21st century, our silence stirs an echoing effect. The more we remain silent, the louder the oppression rings.
In the future, we should adapt the national anti-terrorism campaign for daily living: “If you see or hear something that’s not right, say something.”
Don’t let anyone put you down as being hypercritical or narrow-minded. We should follow this advice no matter who the offender is — your parish council president or even the president of the United States.
Moreover, stay positive and apply the advice that the Apostle Paul offers in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Reach Norris Burkes at firstname.lastname@example.org, (843) 608-9715 or @chaplain.