I resonated to a Times column by Michelle Goldberg, 11/20, when Al Franken was that week’s top newsmaker in the never-ending and sad sex harassment story. I quote: “It’s easy to condemn morally worthless men like Trump; it’s much harder to figure out what should happen to men who make valuable political and cultural contributions, and whose alleged misdeeds fall far short of criminal. Learning about all the seemingly good guys who do shameful things is what makes this moment, with its frenzied pace of revelations, so painful and confounding. Personally [Goldberg continues], I’m torn by competing impulses. I want to see sexual harassment finally taken seriously but fear participating in a sex panic. My instinct is often to defend men I like, but I don’t want to be an enabler or a sucker.”
And later in her piece, “Adding to the confusion is the way so many different behaviors are being lumped together. Weinstein’s sadistic serial predation isn’t comparable to Louis C.K.’s exhibitionism. The groping Franken has been accused of isn’t in the same moral universe as Moore’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. It seems perverse that Franken could be on his way out of the Senate while Moore might be on his way in.”
I think we all find this issue a painful and confounding one. Do I have anything new to say about it? Maybe about how we judge these matters, for which there are two rules that I would apply. First is the rule of three, taught to me by Congregant C, a very fine professional management coach. If you hear the same feedback from three different people, whether it’s positive or negative, you have to take it seriously. So, with Harvey Weinstein, for example, or Bill Cosby, an earlier example, there is more than ample reason to take the accusations seriously. But what about Al Franken, (just) two accusations last time I checked? Do we speak of the three of them in the same breath?
The other rule is the rule of one, taught to me by the Torah. Moses led the Jewish people, an obstinate stubborn complaining lot of ex-slaves, for forty years in the Wilderness. He responded to their many issues, he argued with God Who several times had had enough of their murmuring and wanted to start anew, and he made it all work under the most difficult conditions. But, in one brief moment, Moses lost his patience and struck a rock (to get water for his people) instead of speaking to it as commanded.. The result: no Promised Land for Moses. One single slip up in forty years! From this I learned that people in high places, as great or as important as they may be, don’t have any margin of error. Such is the price, says the Torah, for whatever glory or riches come with that high place. Not that Moses even had glory or riches.
Which rule do you like – the rule of three or the rule of one? Or maybe together they are the real rule? Something to ponder at this very perplexing time. Best, Bill Rudolph