Pragmatism or Self Preservation?

I’m not sure if I still know how to do this, but here goes… 😉

For most of my life, I’ve battled with what seemed to be an entrenched faith in the goodness of people.

I’ve always seen that as a flaw in my character (vulnerability) which, once exposed, people attempted to exploit.

Still, I felt it better to be that way then steeped in cynicism. I’d rather put my faith in goodness than the soul sapping omnipresent forces of evil.

But, I needn’t have worried because time and experience relentlessly challenged my belief, even with people whom I’ve loved.

I’ve come to accept that human beings are gradations of grey, and that rarely, all too rarely, do the fullness of ourselves hold up to examination. Especially, against the elusive measure of goodness.

I’ve watched in the last six weeks as the torrent of sexual misconduct and criminal allegations have unfolded with horror. Which says to me that my self assessment was wrong. I’ve walked the earth for 17,549 days and still my desire to believe in the intrinsic goodness of humanity abides, intellect and experience be damned.

I’ve gone from shock, to jarring, long forgotten recollections of abuse/misconduct that I endured, escaped, and as the mind is won’t to do – buried. Self preservation is one of the strongest instincts.

I haven’t been able to help but think of how affirmation for those who’ve chosen to break their silence, lives side by side with unspeakable pain….and just how much these traumas shape the lives of women, unasked for, unwanted and often rarely healed.

Think of how, mounting lists of sexual “transgressions” must, as a matter of course, shape our interactions and relationships with men have kept me awake at night. I know they have shaped and marred mine and it’s an uneasy recognition.

How many women, I wonder, feel this resurgence of fear, shame, anxiety (or currently grappling with these issues daily), wedded to kinship with their sisters are battling a welling tide of resentment towards the men in their lives? Many of whom we see actively excusing, denying, or willingly turning a blind eye towards their own behavior and their gender, thereby enabling the sickening cycle of sexual abuse to continue.

I’ve asked myself (again), the question that preoccupied me, a fatherless daughter, for most of my life, “What is a good man?”

Do we ratchet back, or turn up, our expectations of male goodness in light of what’s being exposed now? How can we call ourselves a civilized society with this undertow of male immorality damaging our women, from childhood to adulthood?

Immolation, self examination and exposure mean nothing without a recgnition, and long overdue examination, of society’s role in the shaping of manhood. Part of this poison flows from that.

My thoughts turn back in on themselves and I examine this new thing, this anti-feeling, a deadening, as it were.

The initial stories evoked shock, left me shaken, in tears, grappling with a seismic, internal disturbance and unwanted memories.

How do I guard my heart?

Now, I take them in with grim, steadfast silence and painful recognition.

My mind trips over itself, intellectual constructions inadequate to contain feelings of numbness, sorrow, rage and vulnerability.

I wait for the next revelation…

No longer caught unawares, surprise has given way to expectation, unwelcome and unwanted.

I think I preferrred surprise, for what it signified about my beliefs, to this uneasy alliance with cynicism. Is man’s bestiality a given, and moral, principled behavior a rarely glimpsed exception?

Painting by Jason Siwe

6 thoughts on “Pragmatism or Self Preservation?”

  1. So glad to see you back, Coco. I missed you. I was actually taken aback when “The List” emerged. About 9 out of 10 men on that list, had always given me the creeps. Made my skin crawl. Just like the harassers I faced at work. And I told myself, Emmy, don’t be so judgmental. Why are you so unsocial? Just because your brain is yelling to get out of the same room as these creeps. This is a lesson for me: my gut is always right.

    Personal opinion only, I do think humans are basically good. One essay that’s not getting nearly enough attention was the recent one by chef and author Anthony Bourdain. If you remember, his wife was the first woman to state she was raped by Harvey Weinstein. His essay was exceptional. He addressed the reckoning that men must now face, and he calls on ALL men to “Think about where you screwed up” and admit it. Chef Tom Colicchio wrote a similar essay, and instead of pointing fingers, he came out and admitted to using a misogynist word against a female reporter.

    Good men will watch their tongue, good men may screw up, but I believe there are plenty of good men who will learn from this and will learn how to be good human beings.

  2. I was blessed to have a good father.
    One who was a provider and a protector but once I went out into the world thus began the sexual assault and harassment. But now 40 years have passed since that first assault but it makes no sense to me to go back in time. Past violence cannot be fixed or undone. Sure I could add to the mess with my story but that part of my life is a closed book. Discussion wouldn’t help anyone. I don’t own a TV nor do I buy the newspapers. Going backwards in the past for me would be counterproductive. I will let God judge him.

  3. “It is also begins and is reinforced in how parents rear their sons and daughters!” Should read…It also begins and is reinforced in how parents rear their sons and daughters!

  4. I’m so glad that you are back. I really missed your posts and what you, now have to say about sexual infringements/assault/liberties are right on target. Many of us have memories that we’ve shelved over the years to protect our sensibilities and worthiness.

    There was one aspect, I’ve always wondered about in some families over the years especially during our early and mid-teens. The infamous family reunions and holiday dinners were hot spots not only for me but the other girls in the family and neighborhood. Some of us were warned about that uncle or male cousin who hugged too much or too long. As I got older, I wondered why was the onus on us to avoid these relatives which did cast a pall over the occasion. If the adults felt powerless in calling them out regarding their behavior; they should have banned them from these gatherings. Excuses were made for these men. I do recognize that there were efforts to change these dynamics over the years, however, with the recent public revelations; we may see a resurgence of significant improvement in how men react and treat our children, youth & young women. It is also begins and is reinforced in how parents rear their sons and daughters!

    1. Thank you, Carolyn! I missed this space and all the people it unexpectedly connected me with.

      Your point is well taken. I’ve grappled in the last few weeks with my own childhood memories of sexual misconduct and I’m still processing just how much our societal “norms” uphold and conspire to hide this behavior. It’s deeply disturbing.

      I think what we’re seeing now is very necessary and I too hope that it is the start of some meaningful change for us, and future generations. Hope…

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