On #MeToo, Shared Stories and the Ills of Dismissal

Every pastor has a few key phrases she or he will repeat again and again. Consider them adages or proverbs. It comes from giving advice as part of a living, from years of listening to a myriad of problems that all basically stem from the same longings or cycles of behavior. The first pastor I ever worked under said “hurting people hurt people” three times daily. He was right. It was true. Another always reminded everyone at the church that “heart work is hard work.” You get the idea.

I’ve got a few myself although I hate to admit it. It’s not that I mean to have them, but I’ve just found myself saying things again and again at times. A primary one comes in some form of “There’s no more powerful statement than ‘me, too’.”

My wife and I recently came home from vacation, and a return to social media featured those words in a way I’d never before seen. The #MeToo campaign was humbling and even overwhelming to read. The vulnerability and bravery of friends and family admitting they’d been victims of sexual assault and/or harassment on display all at once not only showed how widespread these problems are, but they also served as a powerful reminder of the privileges that I enjoy (or scenarios I can avoid) as a white male.

Reading these stories, these until-now hidden accounts of those closest to me, moved me to tears in some instances. I was inspired by their courage to share in the movement. I was saddened to read their experiences. I was broken to realize the power these moments from the past still had in the present over people I love.

Then I read the comments.

(Internet comments are, by definition, never worth reading. The content doesn’t matter. The author doesn’t matter. The website doesn’t matter. Internet commenters are always going to be internet commenters. I should have known better.)

When reading the responses of other friends or family members, I suddenly became angry. There was a common thread of dismissal sprinkled in with many who were expressing what I was feeling. Amid the compassionate responses were people (mostly white males) nitpicking parts of stories, asking silly questions or, mostly, writing dismissive responses. I couldn’t believe it.

The power of “Me, too.” (or #MeToo), whether in person or on social media, is rooted in shared stories. It’s the story of you breaking into my own story. It’s your struggle becoming my struggle. It’s your weakness meeting my strength. It’s your testimony awakening me to a reality that’s much larger than my own. By reading the staggering number of #MeToo accounts, the devastating power of such shared brokenness awakened something in me, the emotions and awareness I described earlier. I know I’m not the only one.

What makes “Me, too” such a powerful statement is that it reminds us that we are not alone—that others have been in the very places where we sit, that someone else got up from this dark dungeon and made it to the other side. I believe nothing is more powerful than someone saying “me, too” because I have sat alone wondering, “Am I the only one?” A hand extended in such a moment literally saved my life—as in, I honestly don’t believe I would be here today if it wasn’t for someone making real eye contact while saying, “Me, too” when I needed it most.

The expression of “me, too” is an expression of love, which is what makes love’s opposite—dismissal—such a shocking response to all of this. If someone wants to be a troll, so be it. Some people simply live out of unexplainable motives, fueled by unresolved hate or anger. But when I’m reading supposed friends and family members dismiss those they’re connected to in some way on social media, I can’t help but be shaken up (and angry myself).

Perhaps the most beautiful thing we have to offer one another in this increasingly fractured, two-dimensional world is a meaningful connection. It’s the time taken to sit down and really listen to the story of another. It’s eye contact and affirmation. It’s respecting the account of someone else.

Dismissal is to blame for so many of our modern ills. Our entire political system is steeped in it. We’re all trained well on how to dismiss each other by watching the 24/7 news channels that show us exactly how it’s done. If we would actually listen to the shared stories of those oppressed in our culture, if we would actually believe them, we might find a bridge between our neighbors and those sworn to serve and protect them (rather than increasing levels of distrust and militarization).

It has healed me on multiple occasions to have someone else simply listen to what I had to say and then validate that experience. It has also scarred me deeply to have a story to tell only to have it dismissed in one way or another.

I am so heartened by this #MeToo movement in what it means for our potential to turn toward one another in an era where such moves are a lost art. If we can link arms, if we can believe our neighbor, if we can share stories, we just might find a greater power to heal from the wounds we’ve carried alone all these years.