When I was living in London, I attended a weekly meeting of professionals identifying as Christian.
In one of these meetings, I asked what is it about the Church that allows for such levels of sexual abuse to occur for so long. I remember one particularly angry response, denying that this was a particular issue specific to the Church. The anger caught me by surprise at the time, although now I see that anything that has the potential to upset one's view of oneself can cause great discomfort, insecurity and can often result in an angry response.
Self-critique is hard
I believe the ability to self critique and to be open to being critiqued by others is crucial for all of us today. I also believe we all have a part to play in facilitating an environment where this is possible. Where people feel safe to be open about their flaws and past mistakes, and where people can dream of doing better in future.
There are two great organisations that are close to my heart. They do amazing work and are run by talented and kindhearted people. One organisation is completely female. The other is completely male. This piqued my interest and I, with honest curiosity and no agenda, noted to each of them that their teams were entirely comprised of one gender.
Immediately I sensed a level of discomfort, and at least one of the two teams reacting defensively. Please don't get me wrong - I am not criticising either organisation for their lack of gender diversity or their response to my question.
For me, it reflected a trend I notice in society now of people being quick to judge and point fingers, especially around these topics. There is a lack of generosity of spirit.
So naturally, this atmosphere of fear (of being judged or losing credibility in the "do good" sector that both organisations are part of) makes people react defensively to questions on sensitive topics such as gender diversity (race, creed, etc). And it's a real shame, because defensiveness prevents action and real progress.
So what, then is the answer? I say the answer is simple, if not easy. It's to choose compassion and love over blame, punishment and revenge.
It's simple. It's been tested over thousands of years. We know it works.
But it's difficult. Sure, it's easy for me to look on the two organisations that I support with love and compassion. But what about cases of abuse? What about the ridiculously high rate of sexual abuse in Cambodia?
"Pain that is not transformed is transmitted." - Richard Rohr
I attended a conference where professionals linked unresolved trauma of the previous generations of Cambodians to the current high rate of abuse. They quited Richard Rohr, who says, "Pain that is not transformed is transmitted." The perpetrators, in other words, were victims too, at some point.
Victims to other individual perpetrators and systemic issues in society. It doesn't make their actions any less wrong, but it does allow us look on them as humans with a history, and hopefully focus on tackling the roots of the problem rather than just punishing the symptoms. So we can raise each other up, rather than beating each other down.