March 2, 2015

How (not) to bring Men into the conversation about Rape.

@waylonlewis mlk

We should welcome imperfect commentary from all who have compassionate intentions. Open up the club, and all of us may learn.

How (not) to bring Men into the conversation about Rape.

Recently, I covered the news—as a journalist, and as a human being, and as a man—that Bikram of yoga empire fame was facing lawsuits about his repeated, alleged sexual assaults and rapes of students over the years.

Thousands of my friends and colleagues and readers read and shared the article. It connected with 100,000 readers without a single angry word.

But then I offered a more in-depth take of the situation, in this video. 

And boy, was that a mistake.

You see, it’s my role to not just cover the news—but to care about where we are heading, as a community of mindful elephant readers, as a yoga community, and as a society generally. If something comes up again and again—senior, often male yoga teachers being put on a pedestal of fame and money and holiness and then, to varying degrees, taking advantage of that fame to get romantic at students or fellow teachers—well it’s time our community as a whole looks forward to how we can get out of this harmful rut.

I have—you do too, probably—extensive experience with rape. We all do, sadly. Dear friends of mine, and girlfriends, have been raped. Usually date raped by those they thought were friends.

A dear friend and colleague of mine went through this just last month, and I saw firsthand how difficult the experience was—not just the experience itself—but the process of deciding whether or not to report it.

And so, a mea culpa: I was clearly not clear enough in my video that it is not the responsibility of those who are raped—men or women—to say “no” or to come forward. It is the responsibility of the would-be rapist not to rape. I said this: that there was and is often a power and financial dynamic (students paying $10,000 dollars to Bikram, in this case, for a teacher training, and getting promoted or not by him if they are close to him)—but I also took journalistic pains to say, well, how can we change this culture and make it more comfortable to say no?

The answer is transparency. The answer is more dialogue. And boy, let me tell you—three of the commenters did everything in their power to shout me down on this subject, to silence me evermore. They attacked–me and my words—and they didn’t even listen to what I had said, clearly—twisting my words, going ad hominem, getting what I had said wrong.

I get it. They were triggered–and I respect that. But when we’re triggered, we often don’t clearly hear what’s happening in the present moment. We see “other” as enemy, often—even when that “other” is an ally.

I have gone through an experience of something close to date rape, when I was young. Many men have. This is not an experience that women “own.” This is an experience we all should be allowed to care about, and talk about, and listen to.

If we can listen, and talk—instead of attacking—we can create a culture where date rape, sexual assault and rape are no longer tolerated by any one, in any context. Too often, now, we see excuses by the establishment when it comes to football or campus culture. That’s got to end.

You and I have had too many friends suffer a terrible violation of what should be the sweetest, most opening, most wonderful thing in life.

I am, and you are, only perhaps 20% our “gender.” We are, mostly, water. We are heart. We are human—not defined first by gender, or faith, or race, or age, or class. We should and must all care. We must create bridges, not walls, as Voltaire said.

We must not shout down folks like myself for being clumsy and trying. We must rather encourage conversation and widen the circle of compassionate allies until those who might rape know that they, and not those they would rape, will do so in a culture that will condemn them.

If and when Bikram is convicted, I look forward to that moment not as a news story, but as an opportunity for the yoga community and our wider society to move beyond theism—the kind of seemingly harmless, fun idolatry I see at Wanderlust, Hanuman and Yoga Journal festivals.

Over the past few years, a leading teacher at those conferences has been rumored to be abusive. I have not reported it, because journalists can’t report rumors. But he or she has openly defended his or her habit of pursuing students, and much of the community has supported him or her in that.

That’s sad. We need, as the Buddha said, to be not too tight, and not too loose. Countless yogis have fallen in sexual scandals. Some have recovered–like Rodney Yee, now happily married to a former student of his. The solution here is not to create a culture of PC-ness, of fear, of no innocent fun. The solution is also not to tolerate the selfish lustings of those in power—or to encourage the kind of theism that enables the John Friend‘s of the world to again and again get away with cults of personality.

Whether you agree with me or not doesn’t matter to me. Criticism is welcome. I often change my mind, anyways. What does matter to me is that you feel comfortable participating in this dialogue. When we comment, when we disagree, we need to learn to do so agreeably. We need to foment a culture of dialogue, not blindly aggressive you vs. me self-righteousness.

This dialogue will go a long way toward shining a light on the shadows where “gurus” have their way with those in their spiritual, professional or financial power.

Here’s the video, if you’d like to respectfully criticize or comment.

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Yours in the Vision of an Enlightened Society,


Two Relephant Bonuses:

Via Van Jones: “…it might be good for us all to keep in mind the great Teddy Roosevelt quote:

‘It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.’

…Much respect to all of us who chase big dreams every day — win or lose.”


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