Many people who read this will have no idea who Lester Cook is. He is the guy in the article below.
He has become more famous than he has ever deserved for reasons I am also sure he regrets and will regret for the rest of his life.
For the last few days I have been following a debate about him on Facebook that has stirred passions incredibly.
The piece of information missing in that story is this. For years Lester Cook has been active in mental health advocacy, an active and known member of the psychiatric survivor community, active in many organizations and on some boards.
If you read the story above you will not see a man concerned with human rights, but a man whose behavior is ugly and scary. You will see behavior that is not acceptable, not okay, not tolerable in any setting I know of. Within the community he has been part of it has created a fire storm.
I have listened to comments from people that I have a lot of respect for argue every point of the conflict.
Some people have argued that Lester is more than what he is at his worst. Their argument is hold him accountable for his behavior but do not dispose of him as a person. One of our arguments with the wider society is that none of us want to be judged by what we are at our worst and we should not judge each other that way. They say too many of us have been disposed of and we should never easily or quickly do that to others.
I have heard others say this outburst was not an aberration but an off the charts expression of sentiments that everyone already knew he had. In short, he was often a jerk and his behavior had been ignored and minimized in the past. Some have said more should have been said before we got to this spot.
I have heard some people say his behavior is irrelevant to his claimed membership in this community and making that an issue hurts everyone, puts others at risk and harms the credibility of this movement.
I have heard others say that Lester per se is not the issue. The behavior is not tolerable, not okay from anybody for any reason, and it should not be ignored, minimized, justified or accepted. The people who say this seem to largely feel any other stance violates the moral integrity of what they believe and what they think this movement should be about. They don’t want to say just no, but hell no.
I am not sure any of these viewpoints are unfounded. All of them hold some measure of truth. All of them recognize his behavior as unacceptable, as ugly, and as a violation that can never be okay.
My question is something else. What now?
Lester Cook will, rightly or wrongly, never, at least for the foreseeable future if ever, be again an accepted or credible member of this community again. He is easy in a way. Not only was his behavior atrocious but it was loudly public and now viral and I doubt much debate will change the personal consequences for him. I doubt much will change that.
Lester Cook was easy. He made it easy. But what now? What about the things not so easy? Despite the vulgarity of his behavior in the end I really question rather or not he is our problem and despite the passion he has aroused I don’t see what we do with him as being the solution.
One core value of this movement is that the exploitation or injury of any person because of the power, status or social standing of another person is wrong. In every instance it is wrong.
Have we, do we do the hard work, the real work to make that value an everyday reality for people in this movement? Are we an exception to the wider culture or a reflection of it?
Are there issues while perhaps not viral that are equally pressing and, if anything, not more toxic?
“Is it safe? Is it safe? ” That is the question Laurence Olivier asked Dustin Hoffman in “The Marathon Man”. It is the same question we need to to ask ourselves.
Does the racism, the misogyny that plagues the wider culture not plague us also. Months ago I remember one woman telling me that misogyny was a daily part of her experience in this movement. She told me, “Everyone knows it. It is no secret. But I can’t tell if it had ever done much good to talk about it. It never changes. I think it is just part of it.” Someone else was even more stark than that. “It is dangerous to talk about it.”
People should not be the wrong color, the wrong sex, the wrong orientation but the testimony of many is that is that their experience of this movement is that this is so. My real fear is not that Lester Cook acted out or even that his behavior will in some way reflect poorly on us but that the spectacle of him acting out on that train will blind us to the everyday cruelties, so often not seen or confronted, that so many have experienced.
I have never understood how a movement that is about human rights and prides itself on that notion can treat each other so cruelly. It may make others angry and maybe I am way wrong (I hope so) but I believe we are not even close to the image we would like others to believe. Kindness to others, mutual respect, empowerment, fairness and justice – – all things we demand of the wider culture towards us— are too often missing in the way we treat each other.
You can argue forever about whether or not our war with the wider culture has really affected our lives or the realities we deal with in any appreciable way. Some will say it has. Some will say it hasn’t. I don’t think you can say the same about our war with each other.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I lack balance and perspective. I would actually be okay with that being true. But I don’t think it is.
For too many people it is not safe. Misogyny is a problem. Racism is a problem. In a movement that claims nobody can be the wrong kind of person we too often, too easily treat others amongst us like they are.
Lester Cook made it seem all too easy and way too clear.
What about the hard part?