Adam Grant could possibly be the new best friend for anyone passionate about the #MeToo movement. Well, if not him, then at least his book, the wonderfully insightful Originals. In the concluding chapter of his book, aided by a couple of deeply thought provoking examples, he lays out the blueprint for a long lasting revolution. None more impactful than the story of Serbian activist Srdja Popovic, who had masterminded the downfall of their dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
Brave victims, empathetic caregivers, driven activists and even passive onlookers of the pervasive, painstaking MeToo movement should take to heart Grant’s single most important line in that chapter – “To channel anger productively, instead of venting about the harm that a perpetrator has done, we need to reflect on the victims who have suffered from it.” He writes elsewhere, “Venting doesn’t extinguish the flame of anger; it feeds it.” Grant also makes an oft-ignored demarcation – being angry for someone will result in more justice than being angry at someone. Not for a moment does Grant suggest that the perpetrators be given undue impunity. Rather, the excision of societal weeds must begin by sowing the seeds of well-directed, controlled aggression. That was the story of Serbia, the story of Popovic.
Popovic had the foresight and astuteness to know that direct, overt confrontation of Milosevic would only result in unfortunate loss of life and fleeting scents of emancipation. In order for the people of Serbia to breathe the air of freedom for a lifetime, he realized that the spotlight had to be switched onto the unfortunate plight of the victims of Milosevic’s tyranny. A case in point – on New Year’s Eve at the turn of the millennium, Popovic organized a concert where dirge-like songs were played. And in a dramatic move, he had all the lights switched off and then proceeded to flash on a giant screen gut-wrenching images of Serbian police personnel and soldiers who had lost their lives in the struggle against Milosevic. Not one image was of Milosevic himself.
For the MeToo movement to cause sweeping changes in written laws as well as unwritten rules across professions in favor of victims, it is imperative to first respect the sensitivity and privacy of the victims. The mother of singer Chinmayi – one of the leading voices of MeToo in India – made a telling point in an interview that while she truly believes in the value of the movement, she is simultaneously opposed to the “washing of dirty linen in public.” At first glance, the two might seem contradictory. After all, for the movement to succeed requires great fortitude on the part of the hitherto oppressed subjects to come out with difficult truths involving personal, sensitive details. But the point she makes is that more women and men who have been subject to harassment and humiliation should come out and share their stories. But what should be dwelled on in public – oh, the media would hate this! – should not be the sordid details of their encounters with coercive demons. And instead, their hurt must be registered, their voice heard and the movement be propelled in the direction of safe environments for women and men to flourish without pressure or fear. For all the trauma undergone by their family, Chinmayi’s mother also vocalizes her contempt for people’s urge to slap a perpetrator more than using that hand to hold the hand of a sufferer. The punishment of the offender would then come as a byproduct of this movement, not the primary goal. Clearly, great minds – be it in Serbia or South India – think alike!
Another golden nugget actually mentioned in a footnote in the chapter is on catharsis. Grant writes of how in the wake of 9/11, the efforts of counselors to get trauma victims to purge and express their grief proved counterproductive. He writes about how vocal expression of grief tends to have a more soothing effect on a suffering soul once sufficient time has elapsed from the time of the distressing event in question. This is important for MeToo supporters and caregivers. Too often we have, with the best of intentions, the urge to rush people into catharsis when a bit of time would actually help heal wounds. The way I see it, our quiet, tacit empathy could be the calming anesthesia that victims need before they put themselves through the painful yet necessary scalpel of detailed, sometimes disturbing reflection. It is also a reason the media and celebrities alike must not scoff at the time that it takes for victims to come out with details of their depressing experiences.
Grant ends the book with some truly inspirational lines on Originals – that they “embrace the uphill battle, striving to make the world what it could be” instead of settling for what the world has given us. Let us respect, applaud, support and above all, listen empathetically to the voices of pain. As Popovic so ably demonstrated, the collective voices of pain have the power to silence people in positions of power more so than a philippic ever can. And by the way, he wrote a book too – Blueprint for Revolution!
Reference: Adam Grant’s Originals – the final chapter titled, “Rocking the Boat and Keeping it Steady.”