Airing Things Out

A door opens in a stone wall leading to a sunny garden
The Boston Globe ran an article recently about an incident of sexual misconduct at my high school. This is the latest in a string of stories about sexual abuse, harassment, and assault at private high schools across New England, and several of the events happened at my school.

I love my high school and its surrounding community, where I was born and raised. The school is a place where intellect and kindness are both prized, and where reasoned debate is essential.

It’s a house of privilege in many ways. Financial privilege, in that many of the kids who go there come from wealthy families. (Many others do not.)

Academic privilege, because every student is expected to work hard, and the teachers do as well. Social privilege, because of the powerful connections you build there.

I was able to go because I got a full scholarship, since my parents both were employed there. I worked my ass off, and I learned a lot. Way more than I did in college.

But while I was growing up in this bastion of fortune—a place where I felt nourished and protected every day—some of my peers were being abused, by each other and by faculty members.

I’m lucky that this didn’t happen to me. It shouldn’t happen to anyone.

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What’s been striking lately is the flood of reports of sexual assault, harassment, etc.—some of them from 20, 30 years ago or more.

I hate the idea of someone carrying that malignant memory inside them, silent, all that time.

From my experiences with obsessive compulsive thoughts, I am familiar with the sensation of having a small, dark room in my brain piled to the rafters with shit.

For me, therapy and the book Brain Lock helped me open the door to that room, hose it down with warm soapy water, and air it out.

Having obsessive thoughts is not the same as living with the memory of sexual assault. Not even close. But I remember how it felt to carry something ugly around inside me. Like having a blighted spot, permanently, in the corner of my vision.

These stories about young people in my community getting assaulted and abused fill me with anger and a toxic sense of powerlessness.

I’ve written a letter to the school’s administration to ask them to up their game on how they respond to student allegations of sexual misconduct.

I signed another letter, along with 900 other alums, putting the same challenge to the trustees.

Other than that, not much else I can do. My feelings of insufficiency about that bother me—but they’re really not the point.

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I admire everyone who’s coming forward to share your stories. I wonder if it feels like hosing out a roomful of shit in your brain.

Probably for some of you, it’s more like ripping a bandage off a wound that’s been festering for years, or for decades. And inviting the whole world to watch you do so.

All I can offer is my limited understanding of what you went through, and my desire to understand better.

If you were abused, assaulted, molested, raped—at my high school or elsewhere—I’m so sorry that you went through that.

And I admire you for talking about it.

You’re very brave.

Photo credit: by William Murphy via Creative Commons license

Right Speech and Door-Slamming

A wooden door to a crumbling, sunny building.
Photo by mhobl via Creative Commons on Flickr.

There’s a concept in Buddhism called “right speech.” It involves being truthful, while minimizing the pain your words cause others. There’s good info on this and other Buddhist ethical concepts here.

The flip side of “right speech” is “right listening.” Here, Beth Roth discusses how she and her teenage son have negotiated their increasingly difficult communication.

In the Buddhist view, speech can be ethical or unethical. “Right speech” is supposed to share truth, be timed appropriately, and be given with a warm intention. This can be hard when we’re telling someone about something they’ve done that upsets us.

I struggle with letting small annoyances or minorly hurt feelings accumulate, and then blowing up at someone when the pressure has built up too much. This isn’t healthy, and I’m working on finding better ways to express when I’m feeling frustrated, or when something that someone said or did isn’t sitting right with me.

Otherwise, these feelings fester. It’s like carrying a slow-burning acid-filled coal deep in my gut. Eventually it’s going to turn into hot bile and spew out.

My cousin, who like me is a Myers-Briggs INFJ, says that those with our personality type are prone to “door-slamming.” We’re mostly serene, let a lot of stuff slide that we don’t like—and then, when someone crosses a line with us, that’s it. Friendship over.

I’m not proud of that tendency, but I do see it in myself.

A teacher I was working with recently has elements of his instructional style that I take issue with. After several months of being aware of this, I finally broached the subject. The conversation went badly—we were both upset, and I didn’t feel that he heard what I was saying.

It’s unclear if I’ll return to his class, even though there was much in it to enjoy and value. At this point, I don’t feel trust or comfort with him, so I’ll probably never go back. I door-slammed.

Do you ever slam doors? When it is effective and healthy, and when it is not?

Can “right speech” (and “right listening”) help prevent door-slamming?

Two Qualities to Look for in a Romantic Partner

 

There are tons of appealing qualities to look for in the people you’re dating. But two keep standing out to me as essential: kindness and curiosity.

These aren’t at the top of most people’s wish list. They tend to get outshone by flashier traits, such as “hotness” (whatever that means). Especially for straight women, unpredictability and even a sense of danger can be enthralling.

But kindness is where it’s at. Observe your date’s behavior. How do they treat the bartender, the person making coffee, the police officer who pulls them over for speeding? Is there an innate respect and gentleness there? Or do they get pissy and whiny?

Curiosity is also beautiful. Does your date ask you questions? Do they follow up and remember your answers later? If you ask them something, do they reflect before answering? Can you see them thinking?

Curiosity can take many forms. It can be intellectual, emotional, sexual, or a range of other things.

But beware the lack of it. Steer clear of people who don’t want to expand what they know about the world.

Curiosity and kindness. Keep your eyes open for them. They’re signs of someone who’s worth your while.

What other qualities do you look for in a romantic partner?