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Who’s responsible here?

July 18, 2012

Last week I’m at Canada’s house. We’re having a quick breakfast before work, he’s watching Sports Center. It’s focused on Joe Paterno.

And I’m struck by something. I’m struck by how much I feel that these conversations are somewhat superfluous. Sure, they’re important – some more than others – but, when you get down to it… I feel like they miss the point. How much bearing do they really have on what should have happened?

What I mean is, if what should have happened, did happen – we would have been over this scandal a decade ago. We wouldn’t be discussing today whether the Paterno statue should stay at Beaver Stadium.

In my eyes, there is a very clear path on what should have happened, regardless of all other influences. Regardless of what it means to reputations or football players or school morale. Regardless of the consequences to anyone but this child, this child being so fundamentally violated.

You tell the truth, you tell it to someone who will do something. You do something. You put an end to the abuse and harm of others. Of children. You either do it, or you don’t. Tell me, really – what else is important?

But that got me thinking about responsibility. About our responsibility to other human beings in our actions, our language. Our choices.

Where do you draw the line on personal responsibility? On your responsibility to other people?

Is it up to you to tell someone, when you see another person doing wrong? Harming or molesting a child? Beating a wife? Raping a prisoner?

Do you step in, even if it means your own bodily harm? What about your reputation? What about the lives of people you love and respect? When do these things cease to matter?

Where is the line between responsibility to the victim you don’t know, and the perpetrator you admire?

Of course, the truth is that your decision, whatever it is, will have consequences. Period. Which ones are you more willing to deal with? And how might that influence the choice you make if faced with something in reality, over your thoughts on a situation theoretically?

Make it more difficult, more convoluted. What is your responsibility to the greater human community, even without a specific victim, without harm you can see and feel? Do you make that rape joke? Do you allow racist comments or sexist insults or street harassment? Is it your responsibility to say something? To not laugh or to not turn to that other cheek? To understand the harm that these words cause, instead of throwing up reasons or creative liberties or “can’t you take a joke”?

Once, a friend and I got into a discussion over the language that we used. This 6’2” man, who is gay and black – just so we all understand the easy-for-him-to-say part of this – believed that he had freedom of speech, and if he harmed someone with his words, it wasn’t his responsibility to avoid that. They should thicken their skin. If people are too sensitive, that isn’t his problem.

Despite the importance of free speech – is it our responsibility to, at the very least, comprehend how our language and our actions may harm someone? Do we have a responsibility to validate or at least acknowledge that harm, instead of providing reasons for why we’re allowed to say or do – or not say or not do?

As a blogger, do I have a responsibility to understand how what I write goes forth into the world? Do I have a responsibility to understand what it means, or the greater context around me?

This is an issue I have had with the Good Men Project. While they strive to be about specifically men’s stories, they often discuss gender, sex, women, politics, etc. Because the writers talk about life, and because the gender binary is a social construct and we’re all humans, talking about life is going to touch on things that affect other human beings that don’t identify as men. Period. Because the gender binary is a social construct and we’re all humans, I fundamentally believe that the stories at the GMP should touch on all these things – but. Does the GMP then have a responsibility to understand how their words are reflected and translated beyond the website and beyond the interviews? Does the GMP have a responsibility to understand the greater societal context? Does the GMP have a responsibility to educate at least themselves on the issue and language they use?

When I first posted at the GMP, I wrote about rape culture. I thought it was a very pro-man piece, but I was fairly quickly vilified in the comments. Did I have a responsibility to learn how the term “rape culture” would resonate with my audience, before I used it? Did I have a responsibility to educate myself on the issues raised by the comments, the feelings of my readers?

Where is the line for personal responsibility? What is our responsibility regarding the language we use, the actions we make? Where does that responsibility begin for the harm of someone else – at physical harm? At emotional harm? At verbal harm? And do we get to define what harm is for someone else? To tell them when they should or should not feel it?

Where does our ability to say and do whatever we feel like end, and our responsibility to others begin?

Now. Don’t mistake my point here. I don’t know the answers – except for myself. I’m not here to explain it to anyone else. I do, however, wish more people would ask themselves these questions before they say those words, before they act, or decide not to act, than after. That we would all spend more time thinking about our responsibilities to other human beings, to the greater human community.

Instead, we’re so much better about explaining and rationalizing after the fact.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2012 1:53 pm

    Good point, words can be weapons and often we have to weigh the worth of our statements to the potential harm or benefit they will have.

    As for the first part abuse is WRONG period and until we as a society do something about it, it will continue to harm us individually and as a whole.

    • July 23, 2012 6:44 am

      Yes – yet we somehow lose what is fundamental to things like abuse in these larger conversations that just start to feel like excuses to me.

  2. lrn2giveup permalink
    July 18, 2012 3:57 pm

    1) GMP seems to follow the “you can never be to radical (read as unapologetic or uncompromising) if your right” mantra put fourth by many feminist groups like or I disagree with it there too but as yet another social justice hub I can totally see why they embrace it. Also saying that a site truly devoted to men’s problems has to take women into account when telling its stories is kind of like saying feminist websites have to watch what they say about men because their speech does not occur in a vacuum. And lets face it, the answer to any complaining along those lines in feminist circles is going to be “but we don’t HAVE to be careful about offending THEM because WE are winning the oppression Olympics, they just have to worry about offending US.” <= one of the many reasons I'm not a feminist.

    2) I hold the stance "all help is optional", because the idea of getting external help with social problems (having somebody step in when your being harassed, etc) takes on a totally different meaning when your not the group society things is winning the opression Olympics. For example, if a woman is getting yelled at in the middle of the street late outside a bar, most people consider the "right" thing to do is go put a stop to it and make sure she gets home OK. On the other hand, if I (also a giant 6foot + black dude, as it were) getting womped on by some 5 foot 9 skinny white girl in the middle of the street at the same time, not ONLY do I 100% KNOW that absolutely NOBODY is coming to help me, I know that if the cops show up the first thing I have to do is prove I didn't give her a REASON to start hitting me. My first allegiance is to stick up for those who stick up for me. That's where all the "silence" comes from with things like the Sandusky indecent. We may urge somebody to stop what they are doing in private but in pub we stand for them no matter what cus they would stand for us. Giving one gender the benefit of the doubt by default sounds a hell of a lot like treason under that context, and I think telling people they need to wash away that loyalty when ever it suits them to serve some higher "lawful good" imposed by other human beings, less they be considered "bad people", is horrifically unfair.

    3) I won't really get into here, because I guarantee you my version of the contextual nature of language is NOT something you or 99% of other social justice advocates share and to go into it in detail here would a) open me to attack and b) derail the thread, but let's just say that I believe words have different social context within different social settings. If I choose to use a word that somebody else finds offensive in my house, they can leave, because we aren't in a public shared space where we all have the same amount of control, we are in MY space, and in MY space I dictate what is ok and what isn't ok speech wise.

    • July 23, 2012 6:48 am

      1.) Here, I was pointing out that the gender binary is a social construct, and that people are inherently tied to one another – that to try and speak only to one gender isn’t helpful or, really, realistic. For either side. In addition, I don’t believe your final statement regarding feminists. Sure, there may be some that fit that bill, but certainly not all.

      2.) I have to go board a plane. More later.

      • ruthless permalink
        August 2, 2012 4:07 am

        That feminist argument is usually crutched as something like “a woman calling a man a bastard is not the same thing as a man calling a woman bitch because women are treated differently by society”. It is very VERY pervasive in almost all feminist circles I am aware of.

  3. July 18, 2012 9:17 pm


    I think you are far more self-aware than the average Joe/Joanna on the street. I personally feel that, and I can’t believe I am writing this, you have to go back… back to when we were learning right from wrong. (Family values popped into my head for a sec and I gagged. Definitely not where I am coming from.)

    I think about all the biases I was raised with and how it has taken me years to shed many of them. Why was the accent easier to shed than the belief that children (girls, in my case) should be seen and not heard? I wonder what person I would have become if I’d been exposed to more people who responded rather than reacted. Does that make any sense?

    Your post has certainly set some rusty gears in motion, and I am starting to feel a rant coming on. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for asking questions.

  4. July 19, 2012 12:29 pm

    This might sound a bit naive… but does it not all come down to common decency? Yes I know that there is nothing common about it really. But it makes you wonder doesn’t it? The whole; respect your fellow man/woman, treat others the same way you would like to be treated and so forth. I mean, we do have this in our society. It just seems that it is conveniently overlooked when it gets difficult to uphold; be it in terms of peer pressure or just when the act to be decent becomes a situation where you might jeopardize yourself in some way. Humans still have the fight/flight instinct… the tricky part is to rise above it and be a “decent human being”.

  5. July 19, 2012 2:51 pm

    This is something I struggle with regularly. When blogging, I try to limit my satirical posts to people who I find are narrow-minded, or ignorant, or even narcissistic. There have been times when I’ve crossed the line I’m sure, but it’s something I’m always mindful of.

    I have a huge issue when it comes to people exploiting other people’s situations/insecurities just to get a few laughs, which is why I find myself honing in on those people in an attempt to give them a “taste of their own medicine”. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing, when you consider that I’m not really teaching them a lesson as much as lowering myself down to their level.

  6. July 27, 2012 1:25 pm

    Ugh, I can’t watch any more coverage. But, thank you for your take on this, and for writing about it in the first place. It’s important for people to be aware of.

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