“You have cancer.”
Three simple words with life altering consequences. As you read them, what comes to mind? Perhaps, you’ve sat in a cold doctor’s office as those words were spoken to you. Maybe you drove a friend, a sibling, a parent, or a partner to their treatments - maybe it was a child. Whether a cancer diagnosis has been a direct part of our lives or the lives of the people we know and love, it has affected all of us in some way. Without warning, cancer breaks down the door and starts to take things: our health, our homes, our joy, our limbs, and even our lives.
To some, the diagnosis can be a wake up call. Cancer has a way of shoving your mortality right in your face. Perhaps all those years of smoking have caught up to you and now, after the laryngectomy, you can make new, different, better choices.
Back in that room, in the cold doctor’s office, most cancer patients are given a timetable, one that has two possible outcomes. They are either told that there is treatment available. Perhaps it’ll be painful, expensive, experimental, or procedural and often successful. In this first possibility, the patient has a fighting chance. Then there are the diagnoses that come too late, the disease has spread too far, the body is too weak for treatment, and that the best thing to do now would be to prepare for the inevitable and enjoy the time remaining. Either we do whatever we can to find a cure and eradicate it or it’s too late and death is imminent.
Some people like to pretend that if you ignore a problem, it doesn’t exist. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, shared with Forbes Magazine that Jobs “eventually came to regret the decision he had made years earlier to reject potentially life-saving surgery in favor of alternative treatments like acupuncture, dietary supplements and juices.” Jobs refused surgery after diagnosis and for months after, favoring instead alternative methods. "I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something,” Isaacson said, “if you don't want something to exist, you can have magical thinking. And it had worked for him in the past.” Cancer, like most real world problems, cannot be wished away. It has to be dealt with or it will deal with you.
So this is the part where I lay out the treatment, right? This is where I tell you about our options and steps to take. This is where I’m supposed to give you a recipe that cures misogyny and ends sexual assault, right? I’m sorry, I’m not going to give you any answers. What I am going to give you is better questions, because here are the ones that we’ve been asking:
What was she wearing?
What was she doing out so late at night?
Why didn’t she say no?
Why didn’t she stop drinking?
Well it’s her word against his, who can you trust?
We have cancer.
Just as there are many types of cancer, our society faces many diseases. The cancer of sexual assault is the epidemic that has gained the most attention as of late and as more and more instances of abuse surface, but our country is no stranger to disease. The plague of racism has left generational scars, and the infections of injustice and economic inequality have handicapped our country.
If you believe that the problem has no solution and that the patient is terminal, you may as well stop reading now. I’m keeping to my optimism, I think that we can do better and we must do better and we will do better. We’ve identified the problem, and that’s the first step to solving it. Now comes the work. Time’s Up means that we’re officially fighting for that better world.
We can’t allow this moment to slip away, not without a cure and true healing. But will it take for that to happen? Have you asked yourself that question? What about these:
Are we willing to do whatever it takes?
Will we contend with the forces that brought us here?
Do we know what brought us here?
Is it our culture’s addiction to power and control?
Is it the way we celebrate people with money and fame?
Is it the dysfunctional way we raise our boys?
Is it our unhealthy relationship with sex?
Our lack of self-control?
Our inability to empathize?
What do we do to cure a culture that breeds rapists and pedophiles?
Do any of these questions make you uncomfortable?
Are you a part of the problem? (Have you ever asked yourself that?)
Are you exempt?
Why ask questions?
I told you that I wouldn’t be giving you any answers, that I would leave you with better questions. That’s partially true. What I’m hoping to share is a better way to ask questions. Because whether the issue in front of you is workplace harassment, climate change, income inequality, systemic racism, or LGBTQ causes, I think we can benefit from a true and honest examination of the issues that plague us.
THE NEW FRAMEWORK
So let’s examine our particular disease through the following framework:
Observe: Before you utter a word, listen.
Learn from Extremes: Pay attention to the voices that challenge what you think you already know.
Interview: Now you can start asking questions. Are these questions different from the ones you’ve asked in the past?
Immersive Empathy: Learn what it means to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”
Share Insights: It’s not enough to learn something and walk away with that knowledge. It’s your responsibility to return to the cave and release others so that they can bring about healing in the world.
We’re going to cover what each of these mean and how to apply them in the following post, but I wanted you to start thinking about them now and as we go forward. We’ve observed that the exclamation of the #MeToo movement is that this problem will no longer be simply swept under the rug. It’s a problem that lately we seem to talk about every day, but it’s also one that we have been facing for a long time. I would venture that for every victim that comes forward, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, who remain silent.
We’ve also learned from extremes, Steve Jobs could not wish away his cancer. Eventually, the truth has a way of catching up to all of us. The common knowledge is that rape and sexual harassment is hard to prosecute and that the perpetrators tend to get away with it. But these days we’re seeing that there are consequences outside of the courts for sexual predators.
Later in this series, I’ll share interviews with amazing women to gain their insights and share their perspectives on how to arrive at solutions. Our confrontation must be followed up with excavation, and the excavation must be followed with filling in the empty spaces. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them, that’s why we need partnership from these brilliant women. Continuing the investigation will ensure that our solutions take us forward, not backward, and that we move in the direction of empathy, unity, forgiveness, and love.
Once again, I am only hoping to serve as a guide in this conversation. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, read your experiences, and learn from your wisdom. I simply ask that as you are vocal and candid you also remain respectful of one another in the comments.