Friday, July 17, 2015

Bill Cosby and Ubuntu

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

I recently finished a book entitled The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. In the first paragraph of the prologue, he writes “One does not have to be a combat soldier, or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one of eight witnesses their mother being beaten or hit.” He claims that child abuse is our nation’s largest public health problem.

Coincidentally, I just finished an article in the July/August Yale Alumni Magazine entitled The toughest issue on (any) campus: A panel discussion about sexual misconduct. Allegations of rape, true and false, made by women on college campuses has been a subject of great media attention lately. “Sexual misconduct - and how to handle charges of sexual misconduct - has emerged as one of the most contentious issues in colleges and universities nationwide.” Having served on the Yale Divinity School Sexual Misconduct Committee in 1999-2000, I know rape happens on campuses, even at divinity schools.

I was confused, saddened, and somewhat angered by Whoopi Goldberg’s continuing defense of Bill Cosby. The staggering number of women, similarity in their stories, and preponderance of evidence was overwhelming. It appears that he had abused them purposefully for his own sexual, power, emotional, and control needs. And yet, we’re all innocent until proven guilty in the court of law; and we all have our prejudices. We prejudge someone based upon our experiences and our sympathies. As a feminist, I often prejudge in favor of women. And so I was delighted when Ms. Goldberg changed her mind, asking why a “serial rapist” could remain free. After interviewing a lawyer, she learned that the statute of limitations varies from state to state, and in the case of Bill Cosby, those statutes had run out. He could not be judged in a court of law, only in the court of public opinion. And she concluded that the preponderance of evidence suggests “Guilty.”

The political is personal, and the personal is political. Check your state laws and write your legislators. In my opinion, there should be no statute of limitations on rape or child abuse.

Is our society becoming increasingly more violent? Or are we just becoming more aware of our potential and real power to do one another harm? In the conversation at Yale, there were some notable quotes:
  1. “We have a culture that encourages the use of alcohol to facilitate sexual interaction for all ages of people.” (my emphasis)
  2. “We have sexual freedom in the midst of profound inequality.”
  3. “During the day, students are thoughtful and progressive and embrace feminist ideas. And then, after dark, something really different happens.”
  4. “When it affects their social life, people get a bit more uncomfortable standing by their values.”
Meredith Raimondo, the Title IX coordinator at Oberlin College and special assistant to the president for equity, diversity, and inclusion agrees with Nancy Gertner, civil rights and criminal defense lawyer, federal judge, and current Harvard Law faculty member: “We need a cultural change.” Ms. Raimondo says “any focus on individual behavior change that doesn’t look at structural inequalities just doesn’t work, whether you’re talking about sexual behavior or any other kind of behavior.”

Trauma. Dr Van Der Kolk writes, “We know not only how to treat trauma but also, increasingly, how to prevent it. And yet, after attending another wake for a teenager who was killed in a drive by shooting in the Blue Hill Avenue section of Boston or after reading about the latest school budget cuts in impoverished cities and towns, I find myself close to despair.” Add on Charleston, Chicago, Sandy Hook, Aurora and Baltimore and I’ve joined him in the despair department. What’s a person to do?

As we promise in our baptismal covenant, we begin with ourselves. Practice nonviolent ways of speaking and acting. Focus on what David Brooks in The Road to Character calls “eulogy virtues” (the virtues that get talked about at your funeral) more than your “resume virtues”; for as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts it, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart.”  Personally, we all fall short in small and large ways; we all are complicit in systemic evils; and we all collude in this global world of violence.

Pray for peace and reconciliation within yourself and in our world. Inhale peace, exhale peace. Then seek to speak and vote against systemic injustices between genders, races, classes, and religions. Become an informed voter. Think globally, act locally.

Dr Van Der Kolk writes, “My most profound experience with healing from collective trauma was witnessing the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was based on the central guiding principle of Ubuntu, a Xhosa word that denotes sharing what you have, as in ‘My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.’ Ubuntu recognizes that true healing is impossible without recognition of our common humanity and our common destiny.”

Make no mistake, we are all guilty, and we are all being traumatized by the violence in our world, no matter how it manifests itself universally or touches us personally. Yes, our Body keeps the score. Yes, by His wounds we are healed. And yes, the Body of Christ and the Body politic know how to prevent and treat trauma. The question continues, are we willing to do what it takes for ubuntu?