Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Hashtag BluePrintForMeToo

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.”


Anonymous said...

I respect your opinion, but I disagree that 'quiet empathy' will help in any way. We need supporters to speak up on our behalf. We need them to understand the anger and channel it into productive details. We don't need or want another sympathetic 'I understand'. No, you [redacted] well don't. No one does, except those who go through it. When due process has failed us - systematically - and the victims are the ones who are shamed and facing hostility, the last thing we need is quiet empathy.

We don't need 'time for quiet reflection'. The time for quiet anything has passed. What we need now is action. A place to channel all the pain and hurt and anger that has been for so long ignored. If you can't step up, then step aside. The collective momentum will carry us through - not the collective voices of pain as you wrote, but the collective feeling of anger at having our rights trampled, our emotions savaged, our bodies ravaged.

Feel good books are just that. The recipe for people to feel they are doing something good. No, he's not and no, you're not.

- A

Ram Murali said...

A - thank you for posting your viewpoints. I especially appreciate your points on "collective momentum" and "what we need now is action." Thank you, again.

Uday Senan said...

Nice piece, Ram. The way I see it. We can probably have quiet empathy going on (probably) if the victim isn't wanting to go public, and isn't ready to come out. Because itsi their story to tell, and we must respect them. Whether they like to come out - now, later or never!
But once they do come out to share they horrific experience in public, quiet empathy is of no use, Ram. We must channelize the anger towards a stinging change. I purposely say stinging. It needs to be a sting. Because more often than not, the victims are often humiliated in our society, and not the filthy perpetrators.

I second A's points here!

Ram Murali said...

Uday - thank you for taking the time to record your thoughts. Re: quiet empathy, I just felt that it has a place. But I didn't mean to suggest that it must replace the "sting" that you describe. It could be the precursor to the sting (or "scalpel" as I put it) IF the victims need that bit of time and space before they choose to come out with the details. To repeat my line - "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." If I were to emphasize three words, it would be, "painful yet necessary." I stated all this in defense of victims because as you put it, they seem to be humiliated undeservedly than the perpetrators that deserve the comeuppance. Esp. since I see celebrities scoffing at the delay in victims coming out with difficult truths - this was just to say that maybe they need that time. If they don't, then of course the movement will gather momentum that much faster. Does that make sense, Uday?

Uday Senan said...

It does make sense, Ram. I get your point. But I'm also worried if we don't act quick, this will just be dusted off snd passed like it has breb all this while. It's my biggest fear at the moment. LetsLhopeL this movement achieves what it really needs.

Uday Senan said...

Dusted off and passed like it has been*

Ram Murali said...

All fair points, brother. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Zola said...

Ram : This is probably the most original angle on the issue that I've read so far. Very well done ! And agree with you that most (read 99%) of what's in the media are the salacious details.

I kinda agree with Uday but your views though not of the popular strain need more reflection.

"Revenge is a dish that best tastes cold"

On the flip side, social life is going to become a big bore what with males having to watch their Ps and Qs before deciding whether to pay a compliment or even go to the bathroom.
Personally, I was on the receiving end when a female classmate of many years exited my group because I went a bit too far with the ribbing. This happened a year ago. but the events f last week made me rethink this really hard and I decided to drastically tone down my "gallantry" or (fill in some other appropriate word writer thambi)

Anonymous said...

We need to react to social issues they way we would when someone in our household faces the same issue. Question for you is whether or not you would react the way you did when someone in your household had a similar #metoo experience. Anger would be anyone's first instinct but I must admit that the anger needs to be channeled so that one can achieve the goal. Need of the hour is for more and more women to speak up(as they have been quite due to many fears). This #metoo movement is fearless and it will bring to light many atrocities that were buried in the dark. Truth is always fearless, bold and it has an arrogance that is powerful. Let us all support the truth and give it more momentum.

newmomontheblock said...

Ram, what you have written about might help the victims to heal but I don’t think this will bring about any sweeping change. For years and years, Men have just been smug about they can get away with everything and in general the mentality was to blame the victim, her dress, attitude etc etc.

I was abused when I was in fifth grade by an employee of my Uncle. I told my mom immediately. I don’t know what happened after that but I met that guy again after a couple of years at my Uncle’s place. I was enraged but couldn’t do anything. God only knows how many other young kids he preyed upon. Now as an adult I think I should have named and shamed him in front of everyone so that everyone knew about his true colors. In India, there are no laws/regulations that requires registration of sexual offender and it just leads to these monsters perpetuating their crimes.

In college, there have been instances of seniors/colleagues cornering up and harassing women in the name of professing love. The women were coerced into not complaining b’coz of course they have to think about the abuser’s career and get over their pain/terror over harassment.

I just hope with all this naming and shaming, we see some collective change in people’s mindset, education for our kids about consent/harrassment at school and at workplaces as well, new stringent laws/regulations against sexual offence.

Due to all this, if men have had to think twice about what they say/behave and have a boring social life, then so be it. I think for aeons women were conditioned on how to behave. I believe it is high time men learnt how to behave appropriately without making someone uncomfortable.

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you for reflecting on my thoughts. Re: new norms entering social life, I really think that it is an absolutely healthy, necessary development. Especially in the wake of all the empowerment and awareness caused by the MeToo movement, to go through a cultural shift that leads to both genders feeling comfortable at all times is a wonderful future outcome that should make any transitional discomfiture (for men) insignificant.

Anonymous - yours is one of the most eloquent, thought provoking comments on this topic that I have read until now. Thank you so much. I absolutely loved the "fearless, bold and arrogant" line that you wrote.

newmomontheblock - very valid points. I do think you have a point about the ideas that I've captured being more related to gradual healing than rapid changes that are necessary - in that respect, I can fully see your point of view. I am so sorry to hear about the abuse that you have encountered. Thank you for doing that despite all the pain that it had caused. I hope that the future has only positive things in store for women / girls of all ages and that perpetrators be silenced by both written laws and unwritten norms.

Zola said...

Newmomontheblock : Saddened to hear about your experiences but not surprised. I was more shocked when I learnt that one of my childhood idols of mine was guilty of something similar.

Absolutely agree with your views.
Something in the male gene requires massive correction