This is a new feature in language.rocks. “Pensées” means “thoughts” in French and Pensées has been used by several outstanding French writers as the title of a work of self-revelation. Loving everything French as I do, I have always wanted to publish my Pensées. My original plan was to write this first Pensées solely about my thoughts on the recent spate of sexual harassment accusations coming from Hollywood, Washington DC, and elsewhere. I later decided that before tackling that subject I should reveal something of my personal philosophy as a way to let you know where those thoughts are coming from. The following quote is a good starting point:
La plus grande chose du monde, c’est de savoir etre à soi.
(The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself)
This Michel de Montaigne* quote represents a cornerstone of my personal philosophy about how to live life. The philosophy is based on three rules discussed below. Am I sure of these three rules? Among adults, there are two groups that are sure they’ve got everything right – the very young and the very old. I have managed to move from the first group into the second – so I’m doubly sure.
Rule #1 is Know Thyself
As Montaigne says, you have to belong to yourself. Is that a self-centered philosophy? Not at all. We all want to be loved. And to be loved you must give a piece of yourself to others. You can’t give away something you don’t own thus you must own, or belong to, yourself. To achieve that goal, you must know yourself. To quote Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.
Rule #2 is Go First.
The surest way to get the things you most want in life (things such as time, trust, respect, etc) is to first give those things to others without regard for their return. This requires courage because typically you would prefer the other person go first. That’s a mistake because he or she is waiting for you to go first. You must summon the courage to go first and risk being vulnerable. The fear of being vulnerable is a big cause of inaction -especially in situations there is a lot at stake and a perceived disparity in power. But in those cases you must act quickly..
What are the I momentmportant things we all want? Love would be high on nearjy everyone’s list. Higher still would be respect. Again. we must go first. We must communicate respect for everyone we interact with from the moment we meet them. When we fail to communicate respect for a person, we are denying our inherent kinship and diminishing the dignity incumbent in their humaness.
Rule #3 is Do Good Now.
One day after having made a spontaneous, potentially hurtful remark to somebody. I said to myself “I’m going to regret my thoughtless and unkind words and actions someday.” Then it occurred to me that likely a bigger regret would be the good, kind, and supportive things I might have said or done but did not say or do. Remember: You will feel better if you do it now.
Can these three rules lead us to intelligent observations and useful conclusions about how to detoxify the current distrustful and vitriolic climate created by persons who don’t know, care about, or follow the rules? If my three rules don’t lead to useful conclusions, these pensées and their author will likely look long-winded and clumsy.
I cannot and do not assert that my thoughts and opinions on sexual harassment should carry more weight than anyone else’s. But this is a topic about which no one should remain ignorant, neutral, or silent.
Typically, an incident of sexual harassment is built around a woman and man who are interacting within the context of a definable relationship (boss: subordinate; doctor: patient; police officer: citizen; professer: student, et. al.) I will share my thoughts on the three elements: the woman, the man, and the context.
I have never been a woman. This undoubtedly limits my understanding of how a woman might feel in situations involving unwanted sexual overtures. Hopefully my efforts to be empathetic will minimize the problem.
I have concerns about how, when, and where some recent public accusations were put forth. This may sound like criticism, and it is. But I hope it doesn’t sound like “blaming the victim.” Nothing “you say, do – or wear – should invite unwanted sexual attention.
My first concern is with waiting years to make accusations. This smacks of an effort to ladle on layers of additional accusations for political, vindictive, or self-promotional reasons.
Memories also change with time. Details get added, subtracted, and moved around. A one-time lover becomes a panderer, and consent once given is now withdrawn. The most private of issues are revealed in the most public of places.
I completely understand why a woman might be fearful of the impact of bringing a powerful man’s serious wrongdoings to the attention of someone in a powerful organization “run by” powerful men. To that woman I say: Their power is illusory.
Rule #1 Know Thyself can help you realize that – armed with the truth – you are a powerful person. Indeed, you have more power than they do. If the need arises, you should tell them that in no uncertain terms.
Rule#2 Go First reminds us that fear of vulnerability can lead to a period of inaction we can’t tolerate for ourselves or others.
If you don’t bring the truth to light immediately you are ignoring Rule #3 Do Good Now. Save your sisters: report the incident. Do it to liberate yourself and potential future victims. You may also be doing good for the harasser. Perhaps he “learns his lesson” and seeks counseling,
In the end, I would say to a woman who is the victim of unwanted sexual overtures:
“Give ‘em Hell.” Let them know you know you have more power than they do and you’re prepared to use it. Don’t let them intimidate you or try to blackmail or bribe you. After all, no job – or even career – is worth your dignity and self-respect. Besides that, it won’t happen, you are the powerful one and nothing bad is going to happen
To women outraged by the extent of male impropriety, I say: “We’re not all bad.”
And we’re not all guilty. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of recent accusations are essentially fair and accurate. (You only have to look at the number of – often lame – confessions and apologies to .convince yourself of that). Common sense and everyday experience tell you that some of these accusations are unfair and inaccurate.
Recognizing that, I’d like to see a bit more of “due process” and “innocent until proven guilty”
type thinking evident in the reporting of, discussion about, and respons to all accusations
To men who are unconcerned about, prone to, or engaged in harassment: I say
“ Get ready for some big changes. Retribution is coming and it will be painful.
Women are stirred up. You could see that in audience reaction to Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes, where she a.ccepted the lifetime achievement award. She said Sidney Poitier, the first African-American recipient of the award, is the most “elegant” man she could remember.
I agree. Poitier is an elegant man. He was also a gentleman. Elegance is probably something few men will achieve. We should all aspire, however, to be gentlemen. That would pretty much eliminate sexual misconduct.
A gentleman does not take advantage of anyone – especially not of someone less powerful or experienced than he is. He does not impose himself on other people in any way; and he does lose control of himself.
Gentlemanliness may be growing scarcer but women still appreciate it and find it attractive. As do other men, children, and pets; nearly everyone responds positively to gentlemanliness.
Applying Rule One Know Thyself is the best way to follow the gentleman’s path. It’s better to become the man you want to be earlier rather than later. Honest introspection will help you know where you stand now and where you need to go.
You will be rewarded throughout your life for following Rule#2 Go First. You must give others those things you most want to receive with no strings attached and with no guarantee the other person will respond in kind. This leaves you vulnerable. But let’s face it: vulnerability is a large part of life, and the ability to deal with vulnerabiltiy graciously and effectively is a sign oe emotional masturity.
Remember that the desire for respect is nearly universal and of massive importance. Unwanted sexual attention is perhaps the most disrespectful behavior possible. It also does not simulate love. There is no closeness or tenderness involved. The victim has feelings of disgust, violation, and retribution..
The victim may also be fearful that she lacks the power you have, She is worried about her future.. Actually, a man who commits sexual improprieties has very little power and is seeing his power diminish as he continues his misbehavior.
Women really are stirred up. I hope and trust that means they.are becoming less fearful and more inclined to use their power: the of the truth.
We see that in the outcomes that befall the most egregious offenders. They destroy their reputation or build a new one that’s worse than the old; they lose their job, their family, even their freedom. Perhaps the worst punishment the miscreant suffers is the self-inflicted ignominy that will last a lifetime.
The best way to avoid this pathetic outcome is to follow Rule#3 Do Good Now.
The power a man thinks he has can be illusory. Power, like every important thing we might seek, is best acquired by giving it away. The powerful leader is one who gives power to others and uses his own power to good purpose. Empowering and mentoring women serves us all. It will also earn us their respect and affection