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Ripped from the headlines

I was on the elliptical watching “Morning Joe” when I heard the news about Matt Lauer last week. I was not particularly a fan – I rarely watched “The Today Show” and hadn’t developed a connection – but it hit me like a ton of bricks. Yet another well-known man falling to the aftermath of the #metoo movement.

This is a pivotal time in our country, for many reasons. However, the current climate in which women are feeling empowered to claim their lives, bodies and well-being as their own is somewhat new, and long overdue. This argument is not about gender, but much more about power and the ways in which our culture has in the past – and even now – viewed the roles of men and women. It’s a pivotal time for all of us.

The same day as the news broke about Mr. Lauer, I was working as a volunteer with a group with whom I am very close. One of them men lightly tapped me with a book on the rear end as we were joking around and immediately apologized with mock horror. I immediately dismissed it. But later I thought – why? Why did it seem like nothing to me? Likely he was planning to tap my shoulder, but realized he could hurt me by hitting me with the book in his hand, so he aimed for a, shall we say, more padded area. However, why should he feel like he can touch me anywhere, even in jest? Now, I trust this man, and consider him a friend, but am I desensitized to the whole idea that many men consider women’s bodies to be fair game in all kinds of ways? Does it not bother me because I’ve been conditioned to accept it?

Now that bothers me.

We can’t think that any inappropriate touch, words or actions are okay. It’s really not okay for our bodies to be subject to the whims of others, our emotions to be the playground of the powerful, or for us to have to endure things we don’t like for life to move smoothly. Abusing someone is never okay.

We have to stop thinking this is funny, a subject for jokes and jesting.

However, we will lose a lot if we become so sensitive that all people feel awkward about any touch, and we are not free to offer a hug of compassion, a shoulder squeeze of caring. Although our culture of objectifying women in particular (but also men) is wrong, the conversation needs to be about the many shades of grey between what is understood by all as the black of abuse, and what is understood by all as the white of benign touch.

Those who have come forward with accusations deserve our support. It’s a courageous thing to do. Those who are accused deserve due process, which is the compassionate thing to do. Those of us who are neither need to search our hearts to make sure our interactions with others pass the test of respect and that we aren’t colluding by our silence in the abuse of others.

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash. Woman holding #metoo sign. Sanctuary Christian Counseling in Shippensburg, PA

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