Jian Ghomeshi is a monster. I don’t mean that I have done an about-turn from my previous blog and am now advocating for Jian’s removal from the human race. I use the word ‘monster’ in reference to its etymology — from the Latin word monstrum: “portent, sign” or monere: “to warn”. A friend at dinner last night referenced the word monster as sharing a common root with the word monstrance – it holds up for us something that is important to see. And in the seeing, there is learning.
In light of the continually unfolding story and the conversation that has been taking place in The Community, I want to share some of what I have been learning.
I am learning that the accusations against Jian are continuing to mount. As of this writing, nine women have come forward, two now willing to be named. The testimonies being given are, simply put, painful.
I am learning what Marshall McLuhan actually meant when he said that radio is a hot medium. I am always many steps behind the newest technology and have seen my commitment to radio as old-fashioned and a bit strange. My grandfather was a radio pioneer in the Orillia area last century, so I figured that I came by this eccentric preference honestly. Now I am understanding in a visceral way the power of this older technology, not just for me but for many, to gather us in to an intimate mental space, to become a friend, a companion, to invite us to feel that we are close to, and understood by, our favourite radio personalities, to rely on them — as we would a friend — to help understand and engage the world around us.
I am learning about the power of celebrity. Not since Princess Diana have I felt the irrational loss of discovering someone I never knew is not who I thought they were. How easy it is, it turns out, to buy into the illusion of knowledge, to feel heartbroken over someone for whom my heart is an unknown entity.
These might seem to be fairly inconsequential lessons, but they provide a framework for the more critical realizations, realities that I am surprised I didn’t know earlier. I am learning that the depth of hurt and fear in our world around sexual and physical abuse far exceeds anything that I understood. While my initial blog received many positive comments from people who could identify with my mixed feelings, I have also been accused of ‘blaming the victim,’ as well as perpetuating rape culture. I agree that the investigative reporting done by the Toronto Star and the CBC are devastatingly incriminating. My very mild insistence that we, as Christians, may do well to remain as open and prayerful as possible rather than rushing to judgements that are perhaps not ours to make, was in no way meant to suggest that these women were responsible for what happened to them, that their stories should be doubted, or that our support and care for them should be compromised. I can see now how my words could have been taken otherwise, and I find these criticisms helpful because they allow me to understand the myriad of reasons why sexual assault and physical violence go unreported and why we are much further than I thought from the just and open and safe society we are working towards. Although I certainly have heard many stories from women who have been the victim of unwanted sexual aggression, I have been naïve in thinking that our society is set up to properly support them in coming forward. My eyes have been opened by the host of blogs written by confident and strong women who admit that they would only report a rape if there were blood and bruises to prove it had happened AND if they did not know the man responsible.
I am learning – and perhaps this one is the most disturbing – that whole networks of insiders can know something about someone and that someone can still become a trusted authority, responsible for networking the most important voices in our country and creating the space for conversation on the key questions before us as citizens. I admit that even I, well outside of Canadian media insiders, heard rumours about Jian simply through the six degrees of separation – someone knowing someone. They weren’t rumours about violence, but about inappropriate sexual advances and exploitation.
I am learning that the world is black and white. Either you pray for the victims or you pray for Jian. Either you weigh the evidence properly and arrive at the reasonable conclusion that a powerful man has done great wrong, or you blame the victims. Either you condemn the one accused of evil or you betray the ones against whom evil has been done.
I am learning that I still can’t help but to see the patches of gray, the patches of gray that emerge when we insist that behind wrong actions lie human beings. As the accusations mount against Jian and it gets harder and harder to think of him with anything but disgust, I stand in my belief that we need to leave room in our hearts for compassion, for recognizing, even one who is accused of living a pattern of heinous abuse, as a beloved child of God. I stand in my belief that we can say that and still care for the beloved children of God whose lives have been damaged by that abuse.
I am learning that my attitudes toward this public celebrity who I have never met are nonetheless informed by lessons that I have long been encountering in my life as a priest: lessons in how to walk alongside the vulnerable and exploited and wounded, lessons in encountering victimizers in their own pain and regret and devastation, lessons in suspending belief in what is taught to me in the headlines and hearing what is actually lived and experienced, lessons in holding competing truths alongside one another.
I am learning that Jian Ghomeshi is a celebrity who I actually don’t know, and we are all investing time and energy into this drama far out of proportion to the shock we should be feeling at the abusive crimes happening in our own communities and between people we do know. And that is okay. Because Jian is a monster. The nerves that he has touched in so many of us – rushing to his defence as fans; distancing ourselves from him in disgust (‘how the mighty fall’); condemning him and his actions and his supporters out of a passionate and generous desire to make this world safer for the exploited and vulnerable; insisting that we live in the country in which we want to believe, with a justice system that exists and works as the vehicle in which judgement will be rightly passed; wondering at what kind of world we are creating where PR machines and charisma fight against investigative journalism and millions of unqualified Canadians (like me, arguably) weighing in on matters well outside the purview of our actual experience to sway public opinion toward the good each side holds dear – show a great deal about the passions and experiences that are evidently so influential in shaping our common life. Jian Ghomeshi is a monster who is holding up something important for us to see. As the story continues to unfold, may there be space and understanding for praying into the patches of gray. And may the learning continue.