Matt Lauer’s dismissal flashed across the television screen while attending to my father’s aid. After a Thanksgiving stroke, my father’s condition left little time to review and assess anything more than a few sips of coffee is a silent cafeteria or quick naps listening the ‘beeps,’ ‘burps,’ and ‘swoosh’ of medical devices. Still, even I felt momentarily paralyzed.
Did this paralysis come forth because I knew Matt Lauer? Nope. Never met him or any other morning show host. In fact, I’ve only seen snippets of the ‘Today’ show in the past ten years. Neither have I been a regular purveyor of CBS, ABC, or FOX. If any show does standout, it would be ‘Morning Joe.’ My paralysis came forth not because I was surprised by Lauer’s termination, but rather from having incessantly witnessed harassment throughout my first 15 year career path. ‘Witness’ may be a bad term. Maybe the right word should be ‘trained.’
My early years included stints in the military, a non-for-profit, and an Asian automotive manufacturer. A lot of scenes weren’t pretty and were crude, ugly and demeaning. I simply cannot recall the amount of times I heard ‘pussy,’ ‘nipples,’ ‘dick,’ ‘suck,’ ‘anal,’ ‘breasts’ and whatever. Morning breaks included tallies of women conquered as if one were free-climbing a mountain’s summit. Lunch was about measurements, was she filled, did she scream, ‘glazing the donuts,’ and what’s left on the ‘to-do’ list before dumping the victim like trash strewn off an interstate.
The culture of my era did not tolerate non-compliance, neither male nor female. Intolerance resulted in an immediate career death spiral. Twenty-years ago, as an employee of the aforementioned Asian automotive manufacturer, I lost my career protecting a female colleague against harassment. Job reviewer particularly noted “… not an effective fit for current company culture.” Seven years later, working as a consultant during an assignment in London, United Kingdom, just across the river from the Parliament building, I again defended a female co-worker being publicly and sexually harassed. The result? Same as before, I was released as part of department restructuring. Strange how I was the only employee ‘restructured.’
While I considered my father to be an upstanding man, he, like all father’s, was not perfect. He did, at one time, have an affair. As such, after reading the accounts of current victims, I wonder if the harassment witnessed in my era engulfed my father’s. There appears to be little difference. And therein lies the problem. Our harassment problem is broader than television or political icons. Harassment is a decades old, even hundreds and hundreds of years.
Over the years, I was never in a position to effectively require ‘sex on demand.’ I was never allowed that type of management position. Looking rearward, the lack of morality or corporate culture witnessed is not an excuse, then nor now. Harassment and sexual control remains just as much part of this world as it was my father’s. What’s changed is the dialogue. And the dialogue is greatly needed.
Many of us who worked and labored came to our workplaces to establish a career. Some found additional power in sex. It’s the leaders of my era who left a trail of pain in our wake. We were practitioners who disgracefully abused roles as leaders and mentors, betraying the trust of coworkers. However, most of us kept a silence on disturbing events swirling about. As told, protect the company. We coddled ourselves into believing the opportunity to learn valued more than our lack of moral strength. And if we said anything, we’d destroy the very careers we were cultivating. Like the good soldiers of A Few Good Men, we justified our actions via words like honor, code, loyalty.
I’ll end with a quote from the movie listed above.
Downey: What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!
Dawson: Yeah, we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.
As Buddhists, Christians or Atheists, we’re supposed to fight for everyone equally. The problem is, we don’t. We didn’t in my day, neither do we today.