Much of America watched the Shakespearean drama that unrolled last week: the pillar of courage who at great personal cost and out of a sense of civic duty told her story of sexual assault; the embattled, entitled (“I was the top of my class! I got into Yale!”) Supreme Court candidate tantruming his reply with scant compassion; the senators who had the courage to pause the process.
One of them, Senator Jeff Flake, a personal friend of the candidate, noted how the personal stories told to him, topped off by two women who cornered him personally in the elevator with their own stories, finally moved him to seek to pause the process, and seek more truth to the sexual assault accusations leveled against his friend. This was a big change from his previous declaration of support.
It highlighted perhaps one of the most important reasons for people with their own personal stories of sexual assault to take courage from Christine Blasey Ford and step forward to tell their stories to all acquaintances for whom they feel they can. Personal stories from personal acquaintances are the most compelling way to shift attitudes in listeners, and ultimately, ripple change in society.
Stories are the essential language of our species, starting viscerally from the simplest of gatherings around ancient campfires. Those ancient ancestors heard them from people they knew and were connected with. That power of narrative continues to resonate today.
For victims, the rewards of telling can be huge, because telling is part of the healing, of vanquishing the ultimate fear, fear itself. And as the aftermath of Christine’s performance showed, courage is often contagious, opening up wide avenues of needed communication.
Beyond that, victims can reclaim a sense of lost power, in helping to shift society towards vanquishing the horror they once experienced. In doing so, the victims can claim victory.
And so, although not a victim, I end this with my own small story that took place even within the liberal hub of Berkeley. Waiting at a grocery checkout line, I watched how a pre-adolescent boy antagonized his older sister at another line. When I brought it to the attention of the mother, she dismissed it with a wave of the hand and “boys will be boys” attitude. She was not fostering respect in her son, nor was she fostering self-esteem in her daughter. I turned to the boy, “She is your sister — she deserves your respect.” His smile faded to uncertainty. This is where it starts with Brett Kavanaughs. We all have a lot of work to do.