In my previous Blog post, I raised questions and concerns about individual and community reactions to the case of a prominent Biel Businessman and father charged and convicted of inappropriate sexual contact with an intern he was supervising. When we, as a community, allow ourselves to have conversations non-judging and non-blaming conversations about such difficult situations, it helps us with coping, healing and reconciling in the face of such situations. Such crisis situations provide an opportunity to build and practice helpful skills. We can follow several steps, such as:
1. Concretely name what happened that was hurtful. Identify the hurtful behavior, without judgment or blame of self or other. For example, Sexual contact with an intern is not allowed legally nor is it appropriate.
2. Identify the impact of the behavior for yourself and allow others to do so too. Listen to and allow space for a range of emotional reactions, yours and others, without blaming or name calling. Using I language here is helpful. I feel … “shocked, angry, sad” … that… “name specific behavior” occurred. ?I hear you… feel … when that… happened.
3. Identify what is your, or the community’s, need in connection to the situation. Again, it is helpful to be specific and non-judging. From here we can build on specific agreed upon steps or interventions. For example, it is important that interns and women can be safe and supported during their work/education/training. Are the organizations supporting interns making it clear how, where and to whom interns can go to for support? What possible steps would then be taken? The same for supervisors, who can they turn to when they are having issues with their interns? Where and how can someone not directly involved raise a concern or question?
4. Ask for accountability. Those who have not followed our social and legal agreements need to be held accountable. Name specific and appropriate consequences for the behavior, and make these public. This gives clarity and structure as to who has what responsibility. It also allows people to feel seen, supported and increases the rebuilding of safety, and allows people to move on to grieving and healing. For example, those who have repeatedly engaged in inappropriate behavior in the role as supervisor should be removed from that position and made to identify an action plan to acknowledge his behavior with the intern, the system they were in and take active steps (resources, time) to correct the situation. The intern is given support/therapy to identify how this impacted her, what impacted her decision process, and how she can protect her boundaries in more healthy ways in the future. What can the systems change to provide better guidance, clarity and consequences in these types of situations?
5. Look at what you could have done differently to help or improve the situation. We are all part of these situations, it may be comments we made, moments we looked away, times we did not take someone seriously, or did not want to become involved because “it wasn’t our story,” blamed the “victim”, or dehumanized the accused. Again, it is important to recognize our humanity and that we will all make mistakes. Blaming or avoiding doesn’t help, yet doing an honest inventory can help prevent further situations from escalating. For example, Are there things in this situation that may be triggering me? How can I respond when this topic is raised in a way that reflects my values and does not judge the other? How would I want someone to react to me, my friend and/or my family member in this situation? How can I use this to inform how I want to react to those who may be in this situation. Where and who could a co-worker of supervisor or employee/intern contact (even anonymously) to ask what one could do in such a situation? How and where could the colleague of the supervisor have raised concerns to him directly about the behaviors, rumors and/or complications he has noticed earlier?
6. Be aware that any step forward will be uncomfortable and difficult.
The reality is that discomfort and hurt are part of life, and already present by the nature of these situations. The level of discomfort does not reflect what is “right” or who is to “blame”, it is there to remind us … “hey don’t look away this is important.” For example, a family member complained that “the school should not have addressed the incident in the children’s classrooms. I had to spend uncomfortable time explaining this topic to my child. They are too young to be talking about this.” This is not a topic we want our children to have to be faced with, yet the statistics show it happens much more than we like to admit. It is better they hear what is and is not appropriate, and ask questions before they are faced with such a situation directly themselves. It increases their ability to react skillfully. Also, it takes the secrecy out of this situation. Questions can be answered, worries can be expressed, changes can be made. The anger at the school is misplaced. They did not create this situation. The responsibility lies with the accused who broke a clear social contract/rule, by acting in a way that impacted the community. We need to have, use, and adapt our systems to directly address these situations. Then we all can refocus on to connecting with what is important to us about life.
7. Be respectful of each person’s decision as to how they cope and reconcile with these situations. We are quick to judge one another and give advice in these situations. Yet again we do not know the other person’s history or life situation. Some may need more time, distance, or support than others. Let’s be honest these situations affect everyone involved and affect everyone a bit differently. For example, people often say “the intern should not have done that..”, or “the supervisor should not be able to…“, “how could his colleagues and family not …” followed by judgements of how participants should act. “The intern should…”, “We should boycott..”, “The people around him should … “, “We/you should stop talking about it.” “Move on.” These are important and valid concerns, questions and considerations. Yet, we all have different ways of finding our ways through these difficult situations. I invite us to respect how others decide to act and respond. Let’s leave the “shoulds, musts, and can’ts” out of the conversations about how to cope and reconcile with difficult situations. Instead, you can ask questions (“what is your intention with (name behavior)…?”), make requests (“Can we please not…?”), voice uncertainty (“I am not sure what to say, think or do.”), recognize multiple perspectives (“I can see others feel/want/do, and yet for me it is important…”), and take distance if needed (“I don’t want to …”). Most likely, we may need to go through the above steps multiple times.
In conclusion, it is important that we learn to name, discuss and reconcile with these situations. There are no easy answers. We can catch ourselves trying to simply the situation with avoidance, blame, and judgment. Instead, we can allow ourselves and invite others to take the space and time to … name the difficult behavior, share emotional reactions, listen, make requests, hold ourselves and others accountable, take active steps to change and be aware of lingering discomfort in doing all of these things.
Crisis equals opportunity – the opportunity to learn and grow.