Many years ago I worked as a therapist with adolescent sexual perpetrators. Everyone I worked with had raped someone, sometimes a lot more than one someone, and they were all kids. The most difficult session was the one where they sat down with their victims to take accountability for their behavior.
It was hard sometimes for them to understand first of all that everything was based on the willingness and ability of the victim to hear what they had to say. The victim sat the timetable. To talk before someone was ready was to simply reopen wounds. It was not treatment. It was cruelty. And to do it too soon was extreme cruelty.
But the hardest thing was to teach someone that why didn’t matter. To say I did something terrible and this is what made me do it was to minimize the suffering and injury of the victim. It was to minimize fault. It was to say this horrible, nasty thing I did was not the result of a choice I made but the conditions under which I was under. Some things need no explanation. No why makes it better, more understandable or less obscene.
Some kids never got it. They believed the “buts” in their life mattered. I didn’t mean for this to happen but someone said this, or I felt this, or whatever and then this happened. A core part of treatment was changing but to and. This happened and this was what I did. Everything after the and was them. It wasn’t about why but about what. That was accountability.
I say all this by way of introduction to the point I want to make. If you have not read the previous post about Lester Cook you need to do so or much of what follows will make little sense.
Lester had a major episode on a New York city train. He got angry at a lady and proceeded to call her racist names, bitch etc etc (I am sure you get the drift. If not refer to the article linked in the previous post). He was ugly, hateful and nasty. He was probably lucky he was not arrested or attacked. He was way past making an ass of himself.
To put it mildly the whole episode has been greeted with rage. To many people it seemed Lester’s behavior was more than an embarrassment. It was a betrayal, a personal injury to them. It was someone who was supposed to be about human rights, someone they were supposed to trust, spewing racist and misogynist trash at the top of his lungs for all to see.
As I said in the previous post there have been a lot of discussions, a lot of voices raised and a lot of different stances taken.
Tonight he tried, I think, to explain, to take accountability and it went really poorly. Things were made much worse. The rage his explanation was greeted with was extraordinary. People were ready to fight him or anyone who they thought were defending him. Many just told him they were done with him forever.
Someone gave him bad advice about how to do this or he just made a horrible decision. No one was really ready to hear from him. The wounds they felt were still fresh and open. And I never was really sure that he understood the level of betrayal people felt. Then he tried to tell “why” it happened and that was the worst possible choice. I think he saw it as being honest and taking accountability. I don’t think he understood what accountability really was. I don’t think he understood how little anyone cared about why he did and how little that affected their feelings about what he did. I wished he stayed quiet. I don’t know if he realized how much this was about the choices he made and the value he had held women and black people in for a long time.
I don’t like the idea of throwing anybody away and I don’t think Lester Cook should be thrown away. I think too many of us are someone’s throwaway people and I don’t think it is a fair choice ever. But Lester has work to do and he must choose to do it. And some of the timetable will not be of his choice. I hope as a start he will take care of himself and concentrate on his healing. He wasn’t ready tonight. Neither was anyone else.
I hope all this does not just become about Lester Cook. Demonizing him does no good and serves no purpose. I don’t know if he will ever be accepted again. He may decide he doesn’t need to be. All that is for the future.
We have a problem with cruelty. In ways spoken and ways unspoken, in ways aware and ways unaware we have a problem with telling other people they are the wrong kind of people. They have the wrong color of skin, they are the wrong sex or the wrong orientation or they just believe the wrong things or Lord knows what. The compassion we demand of the wider world we too often do not give to each other.
Some of it is without doubt a creature of wider systematic things. It is not just hard not to be racist. Sometimes it is hard to even know you are. The same with misogyny. But the answer for us is the same as the answer for Lester. Take accountability for what you do without minimizing or explaining away the injuries we bring to each other. And commit to making the amends necessary and to doing things differently. The best way to do away with cruelty is to make it more likely we can be kind. If we don’t like what we have built we need to build something different.
I really hope Lester Cook finds a way to build something different in his life. It is a grace we all deserve.