Who’s responsible here?
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.