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It is up to all of us

April 28, 2015

As we wait to see if US law will protect LGBT marriage… As we watch angry people turn to violence against oppression… It is important to remember:

We are all responsible. For bullying. For abuse of power. All of us.

I see people pointing fingers a lot, and talking about how this person or that should have done more to stop an abusive behavior in various venues, and I think, “We all need to actually live like we believe that, if we want it to happen.”

We are a culture, perhaps a species, that values Loyalty over Honesty and Integrity. We can learn to do better, but we need to try.

Bullies thrive on this. In the schools (“don’t be a tattletale”), in the churches (“he’s God’s chosen”), in the military (“obey your superiors without question”), in the police force (“don’t break the blue wall”) and in politics (“hold the party line’).

We don’t reward whistleblowers, no matter how we pay lip service. We vilify them. They often suffer more punishment than the people they report. It is possible to report your superiors for confirmed TORTURE and be the only one who goes to jail.

School bullies get slap on the wrist suspensions, and then are sent back into the school with their victim with no other measures taken. The victim may be equally punished for fighting back. They may even be prosecuted for filming their abuse.

If you tell Americans their privacy has been violated in unthinkable ways, you may have to flee for your life and hole up in a foreign embassy.

I know a gay man who sat in a room full of unaware cops, while one of them explained how a gay cop in his department would be shown Southern hospitality with a noose. The other cops didn’t join in, but they nodded at the idea of murdering someone for daring to be different. I’m sure that cop felt empowered to bully the next gay man he arrested. And if he caused a death, and claimed it was accidental, none of those other cops would speak up. Internal Affairs cops are not praised by other cops for keeping abuses of power in check, they are vilified.

We are taught as Americans to stay loyal, beyond conscience, beyond integrity. “My country, my brothers in arms, my group, right or wrong.”

There’s been a lot of talk of how we should change this in the schools. But we need to change it EVERYWHERE. Kids learn by example. If we don’t praise the cop who speaks up against an abusive co-worker, the soldier who reports his superior, the whistleblower who reports his company for polluting our drinking water and ends up the only person to lose their job, then how can we expect kids to believe they will be protected if they report their own bullying and abuse?

If we agree with covering up the times our military causes civilian casualties abroad, because it “makes America look bad” then how can we argue with the Catholic church covering up child sexual abuse because “it made the Church look bad.” We cannot pick and choose. Our response to someone filming cops doing wrong must not be a bill to make filming cops illegal (Texas). We must value everyone who stands up with integrity.

One of the hardest things to do is to speak out, from personal moral courage, against someone close to us who has done wrong. But until we start applauding and REWARDING that kind of courage, not giving lip service and then allowing consequences to fall when the applause dies down, we have little chance of preventing abuse of power. At every level.

And we will have those who are not in power becoming angry, and frustrated, and despondent. They will turn to violence, against themselves, or others, when we fail them.

It is up to all of us.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynette permalink
    April 28, 2015 5:56 pm

    Very well said, Kaje.

  2. April 29, 2015 5:52 pm

    Excellent blog! Agree absolutely.

  3. Melle Rae permalink
    April 29, 2015 9:36 pm

    Well said

    • April 30, 2015 12:39 pm

      Thanks. I just saw an interesting example in a book of what I mean – a character is lamenting child abuse being unreported and swept under the rug a decade earlier, and in the next breath in response to a question from a cop about something more minor, he says “I’m not a tattletale tit”. That attitude is so inculcated, we don’t see the contradiction. At all levels we need to not blame the messenger. If we want rule of law, and for injustice to be taken seriously and handled before it becomes violence, we need to make reporting wrongdoing something that is considered praiseworthy for the good of society.

      Not every minor sin that gets reported will be a call to action, but each should get fair hearing. Think of the grade-school bully who snatches the cookie from kids’ lunches in the cafeteria. If we take their complaints seriously, instead of saying “don’t tattle, it’s not that big a deal” then he might be taught better before that kind of behavior becomes ingrained. Before, a few years later, he’s driving some kid to suicide in high school.

  4. Christina permalink
    April 30, 2015 2:49 pm

    This is so very true. We have an additional element of this in South Africa though: The same people who complain about crime and corruption will happily pay a traffic cop a bribe in order to avoid a fine … and they never see what they are doing as wrong.

    • April 30, 2015 10:15 pm

      That is pretty blatant. I’m not sure how to change a cultural dynamic, but being aware and discussing it is a starting point, I guess.

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