Barbara Monty was chosen to participate in a panel discussion on fostering diversity in the business environment and was honored by Fiona Ma, of the State Board or Equalization, for her contribution to Gay Rights.
Eileen begins the discussion
It is not unusual for a plaintiff’s lawyer to encounter clients whose anger clouds their judgment and prevents them from making good decisions, much less a good impression. After all, every plaintiff is a person whose well-being has been disrupted by the actions of another. Plaintiffs need monetary settlements but sometimes also need peace and closure on what may have been one of the most difficult experiences of their lives.
Forgiveness has the potential to introduce an element of humanity and healing that has been absent from the legal field. This is vital when many in society hold cynicism and mistrust towards the legal system, and many lawyers report great dissatisfaction with their jobs, wishing for careers more in line with their values.
In the past several decades, a severe crisis in the legal profession has been well documented, one that includes widespread burnout, career dissatisfaction, and high rates of alcohol and substance abuse, divorce, depression, and suicide. These problems are reversed when lawyers adopt a new approach to law that embraces “(1) a desire to maximize the emotional, psychological, and relational wellbeing of the individuals and communities involved in each legal matter; and (2) a focus on more than just strict legal rights, responsibilities, duties, obligations, and entitlements. (Daicoff, Law as a Healing Profession, 6 Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal 1 (2006).)
By recognizing the larger issues implicated, plaintiffs’ lawyers have the opportunity to restore dignity and leadership to the legal profession, and to fulfill the highest ethical duty of a lawyer: To serve the best interests of the client.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a decision not to pursue resentment, retribution or revenge. It means letting go of the desire to blame and the need to be right. It enables a person to make peace with painful things that have happened or are happening to them. At the same time, there are many misconceptions about forgiveness, including the following:
Forgiveness is a sign of weakness. Forgiveness isn’t for the weak. It takes courage to forgive. Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it like this: Anyone who thinks forgiveness is weak hasn’t done it.
Forgiveness means what happened is ok. Forgiveness does not mean poor behavior is condoned or excused. Nor does it negate the need for accountability and justice, or the right to seek reparation and wholeness.
Forgiveness means I have to forget what happened. Forgiveness does not mean living in denial. It is important to fully acknowledge what occurred and learn from the experience, in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The other person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. Forgiveness is not done for the other person. It is done solely for the benefit of the one forgiving. It enables the release of toxic emotions that are incredibly destructive to one’s health and well-being.
A person should forgive. Forgiveness is a choice, one that each person must make for himself or herself. Sometimes, people need time before they are ready to forgive, and it’s not something that should be rushed or forced.
Forgiveness means reconciling with the other person. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. When forgiveness occurs, it can open the door for reconciliation, but it is possible to forgive without reconciling.
Some things are simply unforgivable. We often resist forgiveness on the grounds that what happened is too egregious to be forgiven. Forgiveness expert Fred Luskin says nothing is per se unforgivable:
Our major obstacle is not the offenses themselves but the lack of tools with which to work. We only imagine it is the nature of the offense that is unforgivable. However, if any of us look around we will find people who have forgiven the very same offense.
What if the other person won’t apologize?
While bilateral forgiveness requires an apology or show of remorse, unilateral forgiveness is always available. We all have the ability to forgive at any moment, without any pre-conditions. The other person does not need to apologize, be available, or even be alive.
Few people realize the high price they pay when they don’t forgive. In the past 30 years, there has been extensive scientific study showing that holding onto anger and resentment takes a serious toll on our physical and mental health. Scientists have demonstrated that just thinking about a conflict or grudge increases the risk of heart attack, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and a myriad of other serious diseases. At the same time, chronic stress weakens the immune system and can give rise to depression and psychological disorders.
Conversely, many of the leading medical institutions in the United States, including Johns Hopkins Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic, and the University of California San Francisco espouse the benefits of forgiveness and note that these benefits seem to increase with age, including:
- Healthier relationships
- Greater psychological well-being
- Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
- Stronger immune system
- Improved health
- Higher self-esteem and less depression
- Clearer thinking and creativity
- Increased hope, trust, happiness, and gratitude
When do you consider forgiveness?
While it is important for plaintiffs’ attorneys to understand the relevance of forgiveness in legal disputes, this is not to say that forgiveness will be appropriate in every case or with every client. That is certainly not the case.
Forgiveness is most likely to have relevance for a client when some or all of the following factors are present:
- The client has suffered a particularly deep loss.
- The client’s anger is getting in the way.
- He/she is unable to participate effectively in mediation, deposition, or settlement discussions.
- The client’s suffering seems disproportionate to what occurred.
- The client’s resentment is over an event that happened long ago.
Forgiveness can help the client resolve intense emotions, think clearly, and make smart settlement decisions. By defusing intense emotions, it can enable the client to make a better impression in mediation and be a more effective witness at deposition or trial. The client who forgives is likely to be easier to work with and, ultimately, happier with the results.
At the same time, forgiveness will be of help to the lawyer when some or all of the following factors are present:
- The lawyer is burned out by legal practice, chronically stressed.
- The lawyer’s anger is greater than the client’s.
- The lawyer is embroiled in his/her own conflict(s).
- The lawyer suffers from depression and/or addictive behavior.
Lawyers who practice forgiveness are better able to align their work with their values, feel energized by their work, attain greater career satisfaction, and achieve work/life balance. They are also better able to understand the emotional nuances of cases, which enables them to be more creative and effective.
How does forgiveness apply to litigation? Barbara’s thoughts.
We lawyers have a professional responsibility to act in our clients’ best interests. Representing plaintiffs, we often think that obtaining the most money is the goal. While this may be true to a great extent, sometimes what is in the best interest of our clients may be to resolve the case before trial, or before litigation has begun, even if this results in a smaller dollar recovery for both clients and us.
Several years ago, I attended a workshop on “Forgiveness,” thinking that being able to forgive would help my clients. I had noticed that some clients still suffered even after they “won” their cases. They were not able to let go of the pain of the case, regardless of what settlement was achieved. I wanted to know if there was something else I could do for clients to help ease their suffering besides getting them a monetary award.
In this workshop, I learned that “forgiveness” does not mean that one condones bad behavior or minimizes pain, but that one can actually let go of feeling pain, anger, and victimization. If one could do this, one could make better choices and move on with one’s life.
I then started reading about forgiveness, taking more trainings and doing forgiveness work myself. Through working on myself, I learned that while I do not generally think of myself as a victim, I too was holding on to hurt feelings as a result of bad things having been done to me and some instances in which I did not forgive myself for the way I handled a situation. The more I worked on myself, the more I came to see how I could incorporate the principles of forgiveness into my work as a litigator and as a mediator. Now the power of forgiveness informs all of my work. There is no going back to the old ways; I have been transformed.
Here are some examples of how elements of forgiveness have affected my litigation and mediation work:
In a several day, multi-million-dollar commercial case I was mediating between two former business partners, defendant offered a very large settlement figure and even apologized for what he had done. To everyone’s surprise, plaintiff rejected the offer. Plaintiff told me that the money and apology would not satisfy him. He was so angry that he wanted to bankrupt his former partner and put him out of business. The litigation process had fueled his anger, and his emotions had taken over the mediation and settlement negotiations. Attorneys for both sides were frustrated.
Towards the end of the day, with the permission of plaintiff and his attorney, I met with the plaintiff alone. I am not a therapist or psychiatrist, but through my own experience, I thought there may have been some “back story” that was causing plaintiff to hold on to his anger and to sabotage his opportunity for an excellent settlement.
After plaintiff worked with me for a little over an hour, he discovered that what was preventing him from settling was that he was actually angry with himself. He wanted to make sure the defendant was seen as the “bad” person so he could remain the “good victim.” By remaining the “victim,” he could continue to avoid taking responsibility, and remain perceived as the innocent.
Once he realized that he was angry with himself, he was ready to resolve the case and to consider forgiving himself. He realized that his severe anger with his partner was partly fueled by his embarrassment about not having put certain agreements in writing and not vetting key employees. He was not forgiving himself for his part in the breakup of the once successful company. Once he was able to see his part and acknowledge his anger with himself, he could move on.
When he left the mediation, he realized that he still had some work to do on himself, if he became willing to do so. He accepted the settlement offer and the apology. He considered forgiving his former partner and, more important, himself.
In this case, I knew attorneys for both parties well and they felt they had nothing to lose in trusting me to try something new to resolve the case. Plaintiff was willing to meet with me alone because we had already worked on this case for a couple of days, and he knew that I was not taking anyone’s side. Both parties benefited from plaintiff’s willingness to consider forgiveness.
In a sexual abuse case in which I represented plaintiff, settlement was thwarted by my client’s desire for revenge. My client felt like the victim. She wanted to go to trial to regain some power over her life, and the only way she saw to stop being a victim was to publicly expose her former boyfriend. She felt that if the judge and jury could see what a bad person he was and punish him, then she would feel powerful, and would have achieved justice. We had a skilled mediator who helped plaintiff feel some power in confronting the defendant, who made a generous settlement offer. The case did not settle at the mediation.
We had a strong case. I was concerned, though, that the experience of a trial might cause more emotional damage to plaintiff. She thought that settlement meant that she was “giving in” and therefore losing power. She believed she could feel power only by making defendant suffer publicly, and she did not see that power was within herself. After many discussions, my client allowed me to meet with her therapist. Together, we worked on a plan to help plaintiff forgive the former boyfriend, and let go of the power his behavior still had over her.
She was able to walk away from this situation and this lawsuit with a very good settlement. She felt that justice had been done. She was not forced to make her intimate life public at trial, and she could focus her energy on feeling more powerful. Forgiveness for her did not mean condoning defendant’s behavior or refusing a high settlement. She recognized that she could be powerful by forgiving, by letting go of the power her hurt and anger had over her life.
Tree and view dispute
In mediating tree/view cases, what often fuels the dispute is not always the obvious issues of the rights of neighbors to have views or to keep their trees. Sometimes, just acknowledging the presence of anger, of hurt feelings, of misunderstanding, or perceived victimization helps to soften rigid positions.
In tree cases especially, having each party physically “see” the views of the other is helpful, as it helps the neighbors view each other’s cases. I have each side literally stand in the yards and homes of the other party to get a feel for the importance of a view, or privacy, or a tree’s beauty. As a mediator, I spend almost all the time in joint sessions and moderate a discussion among the neighbors. This frank and open discussion, while not easy, is key to help the parties understand the motivations of the others, and often leads to forgiveness and willingness to compromise. The actual law and local ordinances often have less impact on resolution than letting go of the anger and hurt.
In one case, one party did not want to cut down or even prune his tree, because he had constructed a shrine to his deceased wife under the tree, where his wife had spent much of the last months of her life. Cutting the tree to him was symbolic of letting go of his wife’s memory. Once his uphill neighbor understood these feelings, we were able to reach a compromise, by which the view was enhanced and the tree protected.
What part do emotions play?
You may think that delving into the area of emotions is the purview only of trained psychiatrists, and that we as lawyers or mediators have no business going into this area. No one says that you must do this. However, I have found in my litigation and mediation practices that in many conflicts there is more driving the case than the law and the apparent facts. Often there is an emotional “back story” of some hurt, anger, and unresolved feelings that keep the case going. It is easy to see this in divorces, family disputes over inheritance, neighbor disputes, elder abuse, and sexual harassment. I have also observed in personal injury, business, cannabis, and landlord-tenant cases that underlying feelings of betrayal, victimhood, powerlessness, and the desire to punish can keep a case going much longer than is good for the parties. Sometimes these feelings are fueled by lawyers, even by those who sincerely want the best for their clients.
The point is not to be weak or let the wrongdoer off the hook. Rather, the goal is for plaintiffs to let go of the power the negative feelings have over them, to face those feelings, and to move on to a more satisfying life.
I find it useful to keep three thoughts in mind, in the form of the acronym “ACT.”
A is for “ALL”
All things can be forgiven. Victims of apartheid in South Africa, who were tortured, were involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the abolition of apartheid. Thousands of victims of gross violations of human rights forgave the perpetrators for their own welfare and for the good of the country. Mothers in Northern Ireland publically forgave the murders of their children. Rape survivors forgive their perpetrators. Certainly our clients are able to forgive opposing parties in legal conflicts. Sometimes our clients need only to learn that letting go does not mean they are weak. Sometimes they need to realize that all things can be forgiven.
C is for “CHOICE”
Forgiveness is a choice. People can choose to hold on to resentment and anger, or choose to forgive and lower their blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart disease, heal faster, and be emotionally healthier. People can choose to feel like a victim or a hero in their own lives.
T is for “TIME”
For some people, just knowing it’s good for them is enough for them to just let go and forgive and go on with their lives. For others the process will take some time and they let go gradually. Some will have to work with coaches and therapists and to learn about the process. For me, I had to intellectually come to the realization through working through a formal process. I was surprised that I was holding on to self-blame. Now, I catch myself when I feel I am holding on to some anger or resentment and I can let go. Everyone’s timeline may be different, but everyone is capable of forgiveness.
How is forgiveness being used? The authors join together.
There are many ways to help plaintiffs forgive, and each plaintiff’s lawyer needs to find their comfort level and what best fits their practice and personality. Here are some of the ways lawyers are already doing this at a basic level:
- Putting questions about “forgiveness” on the intake forms.
- Recognizing the emotional “back story” in various cases and how this plays out in resolution.
- Helping plaintiffs to take power and stop feeling like the “victim.”
- Learning about forgiveness so they are prepared to give an educated response if a client expresses a desire to forgive.
- Doing their own forgiveness work so they know what may be involved.
- Putting forgiveness on the menu of options available.
- Talking with clients about the benefits of forgiveness in appropriate cases.
- Providing referrals to forgiveness coaches when needed.
- Using the teachings of forgiveness to inform their work and help clients move forward, without necessarily even mentioning the word “forgiveness.”
- Enlisting the help of the mediator in recognizing the emotional component of the case and the role of forgiveness.
As the old saying goes, “A fair settlement is when both parties walk away unhappy.” Is that really true? Is the best we can do for clients, for ourselves and for the legal profession just to settle a case where no one goes home happy? Even if we win at trial, are we being overly ambitious or grandiose if we think we can do more? Can we actually help parties reach closure? Can we help them heal? Should we? What is the value of forgiveness?
Some of these questions were considered in the Forgiveness presentation co-sponsored by MCBA’s ADR Section and Resolution Remedies on January 18. Approximately 60 people attended this panel presentation by Judge Roy Chernus, Eileen Barker and myself during which we discussed some basic issues relating to forgiveness for lawyers and mediators.
Judge Chernus had been a skeptic of the role of forgiveness in a legal setting. But he shared some of the scientifically proven health benefits of forgiving, one of the factors that helped change his mind. According to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic, forgiving results in:
- lower blood pressure;
- a stronger immune system;
- and healthier hearts.
Another factor that helped shift his thinking was the role of apology in medical malpractice cases. Contrary to common legal advice, the National Institutes of Health recommends that doctors apologize for medical errors. The NIH found that a doctor’s apology—different from admitting fault—helped settle cases, to the benefit of both the doctor and the patient.Eileen Barker is at the forefront of the movement to bring forgiveness and the law together, teaching forgiveness to lawyers, mediators and law students. Efforts are underway in legal communities throughout the world—thanks in part to Eileen’s work—to reduce litigation, resolve conflict more efficiently, and contribute to the emotional health of parties, lawyers and the community at large.
As both a mediator and litigator, I am interested in the practical application of forgiveness for my clients. What would our practices look like if we:
- Put forgiveness on the menu as a possible outcome;
- Discussed with our clients what they get out of their desire for revenge or a need to be right;
- Became skilled in incorporating forgiveness into conflict resolution;
- Worked on forgiving others and ourselves;
- Considered each party and each lawyer as a member of a team working together to resolve conflict; and
- Changed what we consider to be success?
I don’t yet have answers to these questions, but I’m engaged in an ongoing process of change to answer them for my own practice as part of a year-long training with Eileen with a goal of helping others answer them as well. To this end, Judge Chernus, Eileen Barker and I are honored to be part of a new training for lawyers and mediators headed by Fred Luskin PhD. Dr. Luskin is the Director and Co-Founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and author of several best-selling books including Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. We are offering this half-day training (providing 3.0 hours of CLE ) on March 17, 2017 at Resolution Remedies in San Rafael.Eileen and I are also in the process of writing a book on forgiveness for lawyers and mediators and are exploring specific ways in which we can apply some of these principals to our daily practices. We will be including some of your stories of how forgiveness could have or did work for you and your clients. Some of you have already expressed interest in being interviewed for possible inclusion in the book; if you are interested and haven’t yet spoken to me, please contact me.
Rob Rosborough, the Marin Lawyer editor, has also asked if I would share some ideas about forgiveness and the law this year as I move through this process, so I will occasionally have a piece in the Marin Lawyer. I look forward to the coming year and welcome along all who are interested in the journey.
To register for the March 17, 2017 CLE Forgiveness Training for Mediators and Lawyers, contact: Email
To be interviewed for the book, please contact me directly by email (below).
Barbara Monty is a litigator at Monty White LLP (www.montywhitelaw.com) and a mediator at Resolution Remedies (www.resolutionremedies.com).
As an undergraduate, my school had something called “Feb Club.” The idea was that February was so dark and cold and dull that we needed to have a party every night of the month to keep our spirits up and Feb Club provided that. This was not the most constructive approach to our mental health but we were young and it was fun. You can find many better options in Andy Wolfe and Barbara Monty’s article on stress relief. As the article makes clear, struggles with mental health issues are widespread in our profession. And as our President notes in his message this month, many of you have expressed a desire for MCBA to help. Andy and Barbara’s article is a good start, with some tips for things you can do on your own to groups here in Marin that offer different options for stress relief. I encourage all of our readers to let Barbara, Andy or me know of other groups and approaches and tips and we will keep you informed of these throughout the year.
Charlie Dresow (our President-Elect) opines on the lifelong effects of a criminal conviction and how California’s new “ban the box” law is a good start to remedying the injustice but does not go far enough. And this month’s Guest Editor, Nicole Çabalette, gives an overview of several new real estate laws we should all be aware of. Many thanks to Nicole for her efforts this month, which include a recap of our first general membership luncheon of the year. If you missed that luncheon, you missed a fascinating talk on the current state of politics, media and the first amendment so be sure to check out her article for some of what you missed. And if you’d like to go to next month’s membership luncheon, you have a chance to do so for free with a new feature in this month’s issue of the Marin Lawyer—see the separate blurb about what to do if you spot the hidden gavel in one of this month’s articles.
Finally, be sure to check out MCBA’s Facebook page for photos from January’s luncheon and even more photos from our Annual Installation Gala. As always, I encourage you to get in touch with me about what you’d like to see in the Marin Lawyer, including something you’d like to write, or with your reactions to this month’s articles. And be sure to get in touch with Matt White if you have any items for his gossip column. Happy February!
Rob Rosborough is Of Counsel to Monty White LLP. He mediates disputes where an ongoing relationship is at stake, particularly adult-family conflict such as disagreement over caring for an aging parent. He maintains an estate planning and general advisory and transactional law practice focusing on personal and small business issues. Rob also teaches at USF’s Fromm Institute (conflict resolution and history of science) and helps lawyers cope with the practice of law by teaching them meditation skills as a certified iRest® meditation teacher.
Did you attend MCBA’s latest membership luncheon? If not, I recommend reading Nestor Schnasse’s report on an excellent panel on the latest developments regarding gender inequality, primarily in the workplace. (Many thanks to Nestor not only for this article but for being our Guest Editor this month.) Our panelists had plenty to say about the #metoo movement but also noted how what is happening today is possible because of decades of brick-by-brick legal work. Of course, what is happening today makes clear just how many bricks still need to be added to create a level surface. Those of you closely following #metoo may not be surprised by the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and violence across entire industries and our panelists painted a compelling picture of it while discussing the progress being made, such as the SEIU announcing that addressing harassment is a priority in its next round of collective bargaining (alas, to the literal boos of some men in the SEIU’s audience.) One of the more interesting points to me was how much economic circumstances help perpetuate harassment—but then we shouldn’t be surprised that people put up with a lot when your economic choices are limited. You don’t need to be an employment lawyer to want to learn what these experts had to say.
As a companion piece, Barbara Monty has written a highly personal and candid essay—indeed, a cri de coeur—that takes the continued pervasiveness of sexual harassment and violence everywhere as a rallying cry for all of us to do something about it. Barbara gives a bit of the history of #metoo and then quite literally says, “#metoo,” recounting her own experiences, including in the legal profession. I know that many men find the pervasiveness hard to believe and are discomforted by questions of acceptable behavior. MCBA is not trying to discount any of the questions raised or offer its own solutions here. Barbara’s essay and the #metoo movement invite all of us to examine our own assumptions and feelings raised by these issues. As a conflict resolution teacher, I teach the wisdom of those very things in preventing and resolving all conflict.
For those of you looking for a meaty, “what the law is” article, financial advisor and attorney Mike Zaidlin offers a comprehensive overview of an issue that, if it hasn’t already been, will be important to all of us one day: filing for Social Security benefits (note my optimism that it will remain important to all of us.) I have heard Mike speak on this topic and he does a great job of enabling his audience to “issue spot” on a complex topic. Many of you may not realize that a married couple’s poor timing in filing for benefits can leave hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table. The topic is too complex to outline all the answers but Mike’s article enables you to know when to ask the right questions. I highly recommend that everyone read it—not just for your clients’ benefit but for your own and your friends’.
Marin Law Library trustee Jonathan Frieman has written a concise update on what’s new at the law library. It left me impressed with what the library offers, including benefits I didn’t know about, such as access to online CEB material. We are publishing a little bit early this month because Greg Brockbank, our newish political columnist, not only updates you on the races and propositions but ventures a few predictions for Tuesday’s election.
Finally, based on your feedback, we here at the Marin Lawyer are endeavoring to offer a convenient non-web-based format for those of you who want to take the Marin Lawyer with you for reading. We are still working on a more sophisticated approach and may experiment a bit but for now, we are trying out a new feature that allows you to create a pdf of the articles in the current issue with just one click.
If you click through from the e-mail announcement of the issue, just scroll down to the first “Notice” right after the main articles and you’ll see the link. Depending on your browser settings, the link will either open a pdf of the articles in your browser or download the pdf. If it opens in your browser and you want to download it, you can probably do that in several ways, including going back to the link and right clicking (or if you’re on a Mac like me, option-clicking begins the download immediately.)
If you are already on MCBA’s website and want to get the pdf, you have to go to the “Current Issue” of the Marin Lawyer and scroll down in the same manner. (Going to “In the News” will not show a pdf option.) The link works the same way as described above. The pdf is not formatted like the old printed version, but it is easy to read and of course you can print it if you want to take a paper copy with you. And we are still working out kinks with our web developer; for example in a few places you’ll see some code, such as for live links. The pdf also has only the articles–no event listings or notices.
Let us know what you think. And as always, let us know what you think of any other feature or article when you run into me (or Mee Mee, Kiersten or another board member) at MCBA events or by email or otherwise. Until next month, your editor is signing off. Enjoy the start of your summer!
Rob Rosborough is Of Counsel to Monty White LLP. He mediates disputes where an ongoing relationship is at stake, particularly adult-family conflict such as disagreement over caring for an aging parent and HOA disputes. He maintains an estate planning and general advisory and transactional law practice focusing on personal and small business issues. Rob also teaches at USF’s Fromm Institute (conflict resolution and history of science) and helps lawyers cope with the practice of law by teaching them meditation skills as a certified iRest® meditation teacher.
Sexual abuse is directly related to gender bias because many women have been sexually abused but have remained silent about it for most of our lives. We have done so because in our families, schools, and work we learned that we must just accept the unequal treatment and abuse and then not cause a stir about it or else we would be seen as troublemakers or as weak. So, many of us kept silent. Those of us in the legal profession are no exception.
Recently, my friend Eileen Barker and I were discussing “RBG,” the documentary film about Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Eileen remarked about how we women have been brainwashed to accept our unequal status of second-class citizens and how deep rooted this acceptance is. Our acceptance has silenced us. I also found disturbing how much was made about Justice Ginsberg’s husband being supportive of her and his respecting the work of women. Why is this so unusual? Why is it not the norm that both genders are treated with equal respect and have equal opportunities? It is because gender bias and the resultant sexual abuse are part of the fabric of our society.
In 2006, civil rights activist Tarana Burke began using the term, “Me Too,” on Myspace to promote “empowerment through empathy,” particularly among young women of color who had experienced sexual abuse. Her intention was to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society. Burke was particularly moved when a thirteen-year-old girl with whom she worked confided to Burke that she had been sexually assaulted. Burke later regretted that she had not simply said to the girl, “Me too, I too was sexually assaulted.” Instead, Burke kept silent.
In October 2017, following the publicity of Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuses, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged using the hashtag, “#metoo,” on Twitter and encouraged women to speak out about how they were victims of sexual harassment and rape in the entertainment industry to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Early high-profile posters with stories of sexual abuse included: Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lawrence, Uma Thurman, Lady Gaga, Debra Messing, Elizabeth Warren, Angelina Jolie, Laura Dern and Ellen DeGeneres.
Milano tweeted the phrase, “Me Too,” around noon on October 15, 2017 and by the end of the day, it had been used more than 200,000 times and tweeted more than 500,000 times by the following day. On Facebook, more than 4.7 million people used “Me Too” in 12 million posts during its first 24 hours. The platform reported that 45% of users in the United States had at least one friend who had posted using the term. Since then, the hashtag has trended in over 85 countries.
Since October 2017, at least 211 celebrities, politicians, sports stars, judges, athletes, CEOs and other well-known men have been accused of sexual misconduct. Allegations include: rubbing their genitals against women, touching women’s breasts and buttocks, groping women, even penetration of children. These men were accused of drugging women, forcing women to masturbate them, and to perform oral sex. These were men of power, talent, accomplishments, and many had made significant contributions to society.
Could this really be? Could sexual harassment be so pervasive? Could even Dr. Huxtable have been drugging and raping women for years? For many of us, the allegations themselves are not a surprise. What is astonishing is how widespread the sexual abuse is. Information has come out that over 60% of U.S. female medical trainees and students experience harassment during training though most do not report the incidents and over 55% of U.S. female government workers have reported being sexually harassed at work.
As a result of this movement, institutions and agencies have made commitments to change. Promised steps include:
- Processing all untested rape kits.
- Closer vetting of teachers.
- Better protecting children at school.
- Updating sexual harassment policies.
- Improving training in workplaces, places of worship and schools.
- Strengthening federal and local laws for processing and prosecuting sexual assault.
Time Magazine chose the #metoo Movement as “Person of the Year” for 2017.
My dad, a homicide detective, taught me never to show weakness or talk about hardship, and to remain tough at all costs. Although many bad things have happened to me, I have not spoken about them because I did not want to appear weak and because, honestly, I felt somehow responsible for letting those things happen to me. However, I have come to believe that real strength comes from being vulnerable and honest.
I have been sexually harassed at work since my first waitress job at 16. I said nothing about being “ordered” to wear my uniform tighter and shorter, or being groped by the boss, because I needed the work and did not want to appear to be a “troublemaker.” When I was a law clerk in a large firm, a name partner came very close to raping me after weeks of making sexual comments and my dodging his invitations to dinner “work” sessions. He only stopped when one of his partners walked in while he had me pinned to the conference table. One of the female associates to whom I had confided told me that he just gets “frisky” before trial and the firm cuts him slack because he is a great rainmaker and successful trial attorney. I found another job and remained silent.
Personally, I like many men and even love some. I enjoy working with men, and I feel no need for revenge or punishment. I realize that some men are confused, and feel persecuted as a result of the #metoo movement. That’s a terrible place to be. It makes one feel misunderstood, defensive and powerless. It’s a place, however, where most women live all the time. Perhaps it would be beneficial now for men to go deep into those feelings and learn from those feelings how profound gender inequality is and what they can do to change it. Men may realize that they too are products of the culture and that much of their past, and even present behavior, perpetuates the culture of harassment and abuse. We need men as allies, as teachers of other men, as role models for boys and as supporters of women.
How many women feel:
We feel demeaned and diminished.
We feel judged and shamed.
We feel afraid of losing our jobs and of not being believed.
We feel guilty that we were not able to stop the abuse.
We feel angry.
What we want:
We want to be heard and understood.
We want change in society, families, schools, jobs, and religious institutions.
We want to stop being demeaned and harassed.
We want respect.
Women—and men—from all backgrounds can help bring about this change. Women—and men—in the legal profession can bring about this change not only in our own profession but have many tools at our disposal to help bring about broader change.
Perhaps for all women, now is the time for us to step forward, to end our silence about what has happened to us, even if it is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable. It is also empowering to show one another, and particularly our daughters, that it is not weak to speak out and break the silence. It is truly brave. In that spirit, I can now say, “Me too.”
Eileen Barker and I are planning a #metoo discussion for women in the legal profession who have been sexually mistreated. The purpose is to share our stories and to explore what we might need to move on in our lives. Women interested in participating are invited to contact us at email@example.com.
Me Too Movement
Center for Domestic Peace, Marin
Marin County District Attorney
Association for Lesbian, Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Online Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
National Women’s Law Center
Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence
Forgiveness is always possible, no matter what has happened.
Experience more love, connection and inner peace than you may have imagined possible. Bring your greatest challenges and immerse yourself in the nurturing field of forgiveness. A time for self-care and healing.
In this retreat, we will guide you step by step through a powerful, research-based forgiveness process that can be used to heal and release any type of conflict or painful situation. Attention will be given to mind-body integration to ensure lasting results. Whatever you are dealing with – from family issues and divorce to relationship or other conflict – you will discover, step by step, that forgiveness provides a pathway to peace.
Remember, forgiveness is not done for the benefit of the other person, it’s done for yourbenefit. And the benefits are enormous:
- Find peace in your most difficult relationship
- Free yourself from old stories, toxic emotions and suffering
- Heal core emotional wounds for once and for all
- Experience more love, happiness and connection
- And much more
For more information and to purchase tickets: www.thepathofforgiveness.com
June 22 – 24, 2017
Institute of Noetic Science
Presented by Eileen Barker
Founder, The Path of Forgiveness &
Forgiveness Training Institute
Retreat begins Friday at 11:00 a.m. and ends Sunday afternoon by 3:00 p.m.
Commissioners, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, promote a community based on social justice, with equality for all, free of discrimination based on race, religion, color, age, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, national origin, or disability. For more information on the HRC, see http://apps.marincounty.org/bosboardsandcomm/boardpage.aspx?BrdId=44.