Believe Women?

In the 90’s, in my early thirties, I was a resident of a spiritual community outside of New York City. One day, while riding my mountain bike back from a local market, I crossed paths with the eleven-year-old son of one of the community’s non-resident members, a middle-aged Jewish woman struggling with homelessness and mental instability who had gotten pregnant from an encounter with a local, elderly married man who wanted nothing to do with his son.

The boy–who I will call Jack–and I quickly bonded and we would play ball and generally horse around outdoors while his mom attended services inside. Jack–who sought a life more normal than the one he had sleeping with mom in cars or in apartments with no furniture or heat—wanted nothing to do with the weird place his mom would go to “meditate” and had found a father-figure in me, an authentic spiritual seeker who was also earthy and irreverent and—in stark contrast to most of the other residents—into sports.

Soon the boy’s mother was leaving the boy in my care (sometimes overnight) while she ran errands, tried to secure the next apartment, etc. I now realize, of course, that my experience with Jack was, in part, training for my current role as father to my own son, who is twelve and lives with his mom down the street from my present home in California.

Anyhow, one day at the community, a fellow resident told me that Dorothy (not her real name, which I don’t remember) was spreading a rumor that I was behaving inappropriately with Jack (i.e. sexually molesting him). My first response was “Dorothy who?” as I hadn’t a clue who Dorothy was and the community had only fifteen or so full-time residents. I was told Dorothy was a new, female resident.

As I am one for whom doubt—especially self-doubt–has always been real, I will never forget the awful bind I was placed in that day by Dorothy’s charge. Here I was being falsely accused of something the very refutation of which makes one appear guilty.

Nevertheless, I made up my mind to confront Dorothy and I did. “Why would you spread a vicious rumor like that when you don’t even know me?”, I put to her. Needless to say, she was taken back and responded with something vague about my character and how the thing appeared to her. I told her—forcefully–that if she so much as breathed word of that rumor again she would have to answer to me directly.

As far as I know, Dorothy never again repeated the false rumor and I continued to mentor Jack until his mom got so unbalanced I was forced to pull away–moving a short time later with my then girlfriend (and future wife and mother of my own son) to California. Years later, I reconnected with an adult Jack, who is now a successful NYC police officer with his own family. We are in touch to this day.

When Dorothy made her accusation, there was no Facebook, no Twitter. Had there had been social media then (much less a MeToo Movement), Dorothy might have been able to make her accusation in a wider forum and I might have instantly become a pariah at the spiritual community where I met my future wife. If hadn’t met my wife, my son would not have been born. My reputation might have been destroyed and my entire life irrevocably changed.

When I read that I should accept someone’s unsubstantiated accusation as truth simply because of their gender (Believe Women) I am reminded of my experience those many years ago at the spiritual community—an experience so awful I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

I am also reminded of Arthur Miller’s play THE CRUCIBLE, whose important lessons seem lost on those for whom a simple accusation is equated with truth and for whom the lack of due process for the accused is dismissed in the feverish rush of a mob seeking to correct perceived wrongs by trying individual human beings in the court of public opinion.

In the face of such mob justice, all of us would be well advised to remember that men and women are human beings—both fallible and both susceptible—to having “feet of clay.”

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