How do we recover?
As the mid-term elections approach, the divisive political rhetoric becomes increasingly hard to ignore. We know most Americans are repulsed by it, yet it continues to be used among many who hold or are seeking political office. What can we do to come together? How can we regain the ability to discuss our differences civilly and with respect for one another? How can we restore rationality?
One topic grabbing headlines recently is a particularly good example of how tragic occurrences can be used to divide us. Sexual harassment is a bullying, threatening behavior used to gain power over another person. Sexual harassment at work, at school, in our government, military or in our churches creates fear, hostility and undermines organizational goals and achievement. It is always unacceptable.
In 1973-1974 I was privileged to work with an extraordinary group to successfully replace the N.M. Rape Statute with the N.M. Criminal Sexual Conduct Code – a hard-fought battle. I served, on call, for the relatively new Rape Crisis Center in Albuquerque and continued that work as I moved to San Diego and ultimately to Honolulu, where I helped to open two more rape crisis centers, one at Kapiolani Women’s Hospital and the other at Tripler Army Medical Center, the first in a military facility that also treated male victims.
We have come a long way since the middle 1970s. We all dreamed the discussion of sexual assault and sexual harassment would be over and human behavior would be changed for the better.
Clearly, the journey is not complete. However, the claim of sexual harassment has increasingly been used to discredit, taking reputations and livelihoods.
An allegation of sexual harassment requires every leader to act to implement due process to discover the truth. To blindly believe the accusation merely because of the sex of the accuser is an assault on a primary tenant of our justice system. An accused is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the sex of the accuser should not matter. If we abandon these principles, we will not recognize the country which awaits us.
As a former New Mexico legislator, I have experience interacting with people with whom I disagree. Sometimes the disagreement can get very passionate and heated, but the underlying assumption was that both of us were expressing our opinions and positions from our own viewpoint of what was best for our state and the New Mexicans who live here….
Recently though, as a society and especially when it comes to political discourse, we seem to have cast aside what our mothers taught us and what we learned in kindergarten. We say the most vile, awful things about and to each other with little concern about exaggeration or truth. In this arena, I believe the solution must be undertaken one person at a time. Each of us must vow to stop engaging in incivility and to teach our children and grandchildren how civilized humans should behave. Calling out those who stoop below this standard might not be a bad idea, either.
In my experience, the further away from common sense we stray when making decisions; the more apt we are to make mistakes. Upon the recent death of a brilliant American, Charles Krauthammer, I was struck by a word I heard repeatedly when he was described by friends: Kind. A favorite quote by him, however, was, “You’re betraying your whole life if you don’t say what you think, and you don’t say it honestly and bluntly.” I like to think by bluntly he meant clearly, never unkindly.
Let’s remember we are all Americans who are in this life together. We can dial back the emotion and use reason and the law as our guide while acknowledging the need for civil discourse.
Arnold-Jones served in the N.M. Legislature from 2003-2010.