This has been a tough week from a number of perspectives: my cousin passed away, and I traveled to Florida to eulogize and celebrate and mourn her. She was a smart, incisive, funny person, much older than me, who had a career as a teacher and then philanthropist. A person who spoke her mind, she was courageous and honest and I deeply admired her. And I will miss her.
And during this past week, allegations have continued to pour out about notable figures in the arts, news, politics, whose behavior is so despicable, so disgraceful, that I shake my head in wonder over the systemic ills that have allowed these people to rise to power and abuse it so dramatically.
As I have written earlier in this space, I am a person who has survived such abuses and I have seen them close-up in all their ugliness. And as a religious leader I despair over the behavioral examples that are being offered up to our children and youth (and to adults as well) – those who chose to worship in corporate settings and those who consider moral questions from the comfort of their living rooms.
Unitarian Universalist pride themselves on having a moral compass, on being people of faith who have values that speak to respect and dignity and honoring the worth of others. Such values are in conflict with the behavior we are seeing, behavior that lives at the highest level of authority and power in our society and this country. And so I continue to ask what we are offering to our children. What are we saying about what is ok and what is not? At what point do we say ‘no more’ and get into the streets and the public square and make clear that the status quo can not remain?
Public witness can be motivated by many forces. The “Indivisible” movement that has grown legs in this country – in many communities, including Lexington, including Follen Church – can help. But even for those who have not connected with such an organized effort, isn’t this a time when we should remain silent no more? I encourage you to think about what our daily diet of sick behavior is doing to us as a culture and as people of faith. Check out Sissela Bok’s book, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. Read some of the commentary of ethicists and reporters observing our behavior. And – I urge you – spend a bit of time thinking about the messages you want to share with the children and youth you have in your life.
What can be said to them? Here are just a couple of thoughts I’ve had:
~ Respect for our worth and dignity is a value that we all need, and all share. Let’s talk about what respectful behavior looks like, physically and verbally. Let’s practice it in public and private settings.
~ Let’s spend a little time thinking about how we want to be treated, and what we can do to make sure that we live out those values in the ways we engage with other people.
And oh yes – one more thing: let’s resolve, right here and right now, that we will not be a part of a system that promulgates demeaning others. Let’s find our voices. And let’s support others who speak out: they take a huge risk in doing so, and almost always they speak for others who have felt they must remain silent.
As my colleague, the Rev. Wayne Arnason wrote, “Take courage friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down, there is another truth: you are not alone.”
Deborah Weiner, Interim Director of Religious Education