Ask This One Question Before Embarking on Any Endeavor

Buddha in SnowSeveral years ago I had an enlightening conversation with a young man, who could have been my son. He was telling me about a trip to Spain to run with the bulls.

He said you run in front of a bunch of bulls—and you get gored or trampled, or you don’t. He couldn’t figure out the “upside”—there was no cash reward or even a trophy for getting away from the bulls, so he decided to participate as a passive spectator. After that, he told me, he began asking himself before he jumped into any endeavor, “What’s the upside?”

I loved the anecdote and immediately committed it to memory because I thought it could be applied in so many ways—before you get in an argument with your spouse, for instance, you might ask yourself what the upside is. You might realize there’s really no upside, and you might go into the next room to cool off before saying things you regret. (Dale Carnegie: “Nobody ever wins in an argument. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”)

Arguments. Gossip. Dispensing unwanted advice. Judging others. Discussing politics or religion or money. Not a lot of upside.

Sadly, there’s also no upside for women to report sexual assault. They get gored, trampled, or simply survive the situation, which was reaffirmed for me this morning as I read several tweets under this hashtag: #WhyWomenDontReport.

@Uldouz writes: “Because society’s first response is to insult/belittle/embarrass/discredit the victim, in order to excuse the accused.”

I was talking about the issue with a girlfriend yesterday and got challenged: “So what are you doing about it?” she asked.

“There’s nothing I can do. Nobody wants to hear about women being objectified or assaulted,” I said.

“Oh really? You have a blog—you could write about it.”

This probably won’t come as a surprise, but my little blog has a very limited audience, I told my friend. Not to mention the fact that the few times I’ve written about the issues of gender equality or women’s empowerment, there was no response—people just didn’t read.

“How do you know that?” my friend nearly shouted.

“Google analytics … you can see how many views each post gets. Nobody reads that stuff. Nobody responds to it on Facebook either, for that matter.”

We talked on a while longer, sharing stories: the CEO who was known to grope women, which led to smart women at the company, who wanted to keep their jobs, knowing to go into his office only in pairs; a woman who won a sexual harassment lawsuit but who was also bankrupted and ostracized in the process; the young college student propositioned for sex in exchange for a full scholarship who was ashamed and afraid to speak up, and who fell into a deep depression.

This was no feel-good conversation; to an outsider, it might even look like a bitch fest. At the end, I had pretty much talked myself into a place of sanctioned silence. It’s upsetting and it’s wrong (and of course sickening to see the nonstop media reports), I thought, but given my powerlessness—I decided not to go “there” anymore, especially when there are far better writers, politicians, and business and spiritual leaders who would be listened to. The topic, I felt, was too messy, and I saw no easy solutions.

I changed my mind this morning, however, when I began reading the tweets from men and women on the #WhyWomenDontReport thread. The overwhelming message: There’s no upside for women to report sexual assault at the moment. But that also means, in the long run (even if you’re just a normal person like me), there’s no upside for our children and grandchildren in remaining silent.

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