“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”
So we pray in the general confession week after week as we prepare to receive the Holy Eucharist. We confess not only those sins we have committed, but also, as it were, our sins of omission. There are times when we can be just as guilty when we fail to do “right” than when we actively do wrong. Indeed, I might argue that these subtle failures can be a far more insidious and toxic presence in our lives and in our shared cultural reality.
Sigh. I don’t want to talk about Jian Ghomeshi. I really don’t. I am certainly not the type of person to pretend to be “above” popular culture. But it is fair to say my pop cultural tastes are idiosyncratic, to say the least (Farscape, anyone?), and I honestly don’t know that I could have picked Jian out of a crowd before last week.
But I do want to talk very briefly about the (very healthy) conversations that have sprung up around rape culture, consent, and the structures that implicitly condone sexual predators and harassers. Because if there is anything positive that has come out of this latest debacle, it is that we as a society are being forced to confront a certain toxicity that we have allowed to simmer below the surface of our collective reality for far too long.
What has astounded me over the past ten days are the number of articles and opinion pieces written by individuals (mostly men) owning up to their knowledge of Ghomeshi’s troubling behaviour with women. Behaviour they knew about, and yet did nothing to prevent. Maybe some in the Canadian arts and culture scene quietly whispered warnings to the women in their circle to be aware of an all-too-creepy celebrity. But nothing was done officially. No action was taken. Who knows how many women, unexposed to the “in-crowd” rumour mill, became victims of the CBC golden boy as a result of such “sins of omission” by so many who likely could have done something to prevent these crimes sooner. Again, though, there is little that I can add to this conversation that others are not saying on larger platforms and with better knowledge and authority.
What is far more interesting to me is how universal the pain caused by our various “sins of omission” can truly be. For example, in the wake of the Ghomeshi crisis a number of my friends and former colleagues and professors have been compelled to expose the rampant culture of harassment that exists in academia. Specifically in my former discipline of Medieval Studies. On the one hand, it has been truly disturbing to hear people I know share their experiences of sexual harassment. On the other hand, it is inspiring to see women in the academy (as well as male allies) stand up to find productive ways to change a toxic, abuse-enabling culture. And as I watch these conversations, as a someone silent social media observer, I find myself pondering my own complicity in that unhealthy academic culture. Believe me, there is plenty I saw and plenty I heard through friends that I, along with so many others, simply allowed to carry on. Because it didn’t impact me directly. Or I figured there wasn’t anything to do about it. Any number of understandable excuses. Mea Maxima Culpa.
We, ALL of us, fail in so many ways every day to do everything that is in our power to speak up for the marginalized or challenge those who abuse their positions of authority. I commend those I know who commit themselves to challenge power, privilege, and injustice wherever they see it. But it is an uphill battle.
As we approach the season of Advent, however, I am reminded that it is not up to me alone–or to any one of us–to defeat the unjust power structures of this world. For this, I am profoundly thankful.