This post is not about my own personal trials and tribulations with the infamous Leather rumor mill or gossip circles, but instead a comment on a cultural phenomena that has always troubled me within Leather. Truth be told, I’ve actually fared better than most during my title year and the experiences I’ve had have been, in the majority, overwhelmingly positive.
But there is a darkness within our community.
We all know someone, regardless of where we live or what community groups we are active with or which runs we go to. We all know someone who seems to gain their power from always trying to find the worst in others…and then make sure everyone else knows about it. These people willfully choose to live in a world of negativity and are eager to bring others into it with them. They are quick to judge and feel righteous in their self-appointed positions of judgment. In their own minds, they are doing the community a great service by “calling people out,” and that service is so righteous that it justifies any amount of cruelty in the process. In effect, they believe that the misdeeds of others, real or imaginary, makes their own misdeeds in pointing them out not only justified, but somehow to be praised and the more public this spectacle is, the better they find it and the more their feelings of righteous indignation are fueled.
Sadly, every community has stories of these people. Even more sadly, most of us do very little about it. I will admit I have been guilty myself of not speaking up when I heard someone else’s reputation being trashed for public entertainment. Most often, my reasons for staying silent were fear. I was afraid I would be next if I spoke up. Given that anyone who does speak up to these sorts of people is likely to become their next target, my fears were justified. Instead, I tried to console the victims and pacify the attackers, hoping that all would come to a place where they were beyond all this. I tried to remain Switzerland in an ongoing war zone. While that strategy often got me praise for being “above the drama” and also kept me out of the sniper’s sights…in retrospect, was it really the “right” stance to take?
Ancient religions actually deal a lot at great length with this kind of behavior. Buddhism and Judaism both speak of it at length. In Judaism, this kind of behavior is called “lashon hara” which loosely translates from Hebrew to mean “evil tongue” or “evil speech.” Interestingly enough, in Judaism, it doesn’t even matter if the gossip is true, if you’re spreading it to hurt someone else, you’re in violation of the law. In other laws, they go so far as to say that embarrassing a person or destroying their good name is akin to murder. Buddhism, which in general tries to take a more positive view on human behavior, speaks of it when they talk of “right speech,” but also points out that intentionally destroying a person’s reputation is similar to killing that person.
Seems pretty severe, doesn’t it, to equate trashing someone’s name or reputation with murder?
Why were the ancients so worried about gossip, even true gossip? In both cases, we’re talking about groups of people that were socially ostracized from the people around them, often to the point where they had to fear anyone outside their own group. They were discriminated against and in many places even had to fear the local authorities, simply because of who they were and what they believed. Sound vaguely familiar? These people had to stick together for mutual survival, whether they liked each other or not. They had to function as a cohesive group in order to protect themselves from outside forces and to pass on their traditions to the next generation. In that kind of society, this kind of gossip and slander could have the power to fracture communities and create divisions that would eventually allow the outside pressures to destroy the community, so the wise leaders of these communities (or divine law, if you prefer) decided that this kind of speech had to be dealt with swiftly and seriously.
So does this mean that people should not have free speech? What about the First Amendment?
Even free speech has boundaries, even in America. You can’t use it to incite violence or yell fire in a crowded movie theater. The supreme court is even working on ruling on whether or not you can use it to bully a high school classmate into committing suicide. Sure, most of the bullying and gossip we see is likely legal…but does that make it right? Is “calling someone out” worth the destruction these people often cause within our communities? I know from experience that it’s easy to sit back and stay out of it, but what about when the sharp tongues turn on you or those you love? Is our silence worth the price then?
I wish I had a nice easy answer to this problem to type out here. This problem has obviously been around as long as humans have gathered together, but I do know that I see some of its worst representations within the very Leather I love so deeply. I have seen behavior from people I have respected that would make a Junior High girl accustomed to dishing out bullying blush and give pause. I have also seen noble men and women silently suffer it, taking the higher road when met with those who only take the lower. Mostly, though, I’ve seen a whole lot of those of us who see it, but feel powerless or afraid to stop it or stand up to it.
I guess Leather doesn’t work well as armor against others wearing it.