We are experiencing a daily parade of men accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from rape and trafficking to unwelcome physical contact. There maybe two sides to a few of the stories, but probably not most. We hear much about the ones in which the men are, or have been, in prominent positions from which they have now fallen precipitously far. There are undoubtedly many, many more instances that we will never hear of and that will probably not result in anything like the swift justice that we hear about in the daily news.
This post is not to address the topic of sex in the workplace itself, although having served as counsel for a sales company, I have heard and had to deal with too many examples. I am more interested for now in how society comes to develop a new, shared ethic over an issue that has lived in the background for years or generations.
The philosopher Hegel proposed that society develops through a process in which a thesis develops, leading to an antithesis, and resulting in a synthesis or shared and higher social state of mind. Hegel’s premise has suffered from having been later associated with Nazi ideology and is certainly a simplistic perspective of history, but his thoughts may still be useful as we look at how shared values evolve.
Bear with me on this, because I think that we are living in one of those moments in which our collective social conscience is rising above its past.
I’ve often wondered how society has turned upon things it has long accepted, rationalized, tolerated or simply ignored and developed a new and largely shared ethic. The examples are many and interesting.
My grandmother could not vote until 1920 and the reasons for rationalizing male-only voting now seem laughable. Prior to that, slavery was justified by ever-failing rationale after rationale, which required an horrific civil war to resolve, at least in name, America’s original sin.
Segregation of the races was the norm in my parent’s formative years, but it fell as its injustices were exposed by the brave and dedicated who stood for their antithesis against what we all, I trust, despise. As a marker in time, I cringe at the thought that when I became of age, the marriage between my wife and I would have technically been against the law in my state.
Tobacco smoking, perhaps even more addictive than the lie of racial superiority, took generations to rise in our consciousness to being publicly shunned and legally discouraged. Pedophilia among the clergy also took much too long to expose.
Gay and, more recently, transgender rights have risen to the call for full recognition. We had a transgender student who broke down in tears with me over rejections from firms who were not ready to accept a talented candidate different than the past.
I think about other issues we are facing today and many others waiting for their overdue moments. Environmental sustainability certainly is timely, if not too late. The consolidation of wealth and the essential need for a rising philanthropic ethic are concerns we should all address, whatever our station.
As relates to the abuse of power for sex, the field of politics remains a place where the mighty have not yet fallen as precipitously as in other areas. I fear that we no longer expect the elected to have even the most basic character standards.
Still, when we look back at this year, it would be good to note what incident triggered the change in our shared values. It may have been Harvey Weinstein that galvanized women into speaking out.
The fact that so much has come out without meaningful government action is troubling on one level, but it also demonstrates that we can accomplish good things without a fully functioning government. All has yet to be said, but this is something to think about.