Not long after posting Ours is Not a World of Heroes and Villains, I was contacted by the survivor in the story I shared. She was upset that I misrepresented the situation, and asked that I leave the post up, and additionally post an addendum addressing the ethics of my sharing her story. She suggested I open the addendum by quoting Erin’s words in an earlier post about confidentiality:
“But there is a subtle and often-ignored boundary that we all have, but may forget to articulate: our right to confidentiality. Our right to share our own story. And when someone else takes our story and shares it without our permission, the harm is often much greater than the sharer imagines. If it’s not your story to share, sharing it can be harmful, sometimes even re-traumatizing to an individual when they find out.”
This is that addendum. Because she’s right – I ought to have reached out to her before posting the article. My intent was to speak about my own story, but it’s a story that intersects with hers. I knew that, and chose to post it without her consent. My failure to reach out to her was an example of choosing comfort over courage, and thus, a failure of integrity. When she reached out, I apologized for that failure, and now I’d like to re-state that apology publicly.
She’s also right when she says that I don’t know the whole story, and I can’t say for sure that her experience isn’t indicative of an ongoing pattern. And I have to admit that she’s right — she has a lived experience of him that I do not, and I can’t know what choices he may make in the future. One of the things I said in my original post is that I believe my friend “gets why his actions were reckless and ultimately cruel. I’m convinced it’s not something he would ever do again.” But we have different experiences, and have come to different conclusions. And I could be wrong. I can’t know for sure.
She also raised some very good questions, which (with her permission), I’d like to include here: “For survivors’ sakes, you should acknowledge that when you find out a friend has done something like [the perpetrator] did, it’s probably not just a single fact you didn’t know about your friend, but a real dimension of who they are that was – and in large part still is – hidden from you. What can and should you do and say when you know very little? What does it mean to hold someone accountable when you don’t know what really happened? How might you and others have been complicit in ways you don’t understand?”
I don’t have answers to those questions. They make me uncomfortable, but they’re important. They don’t make me think that ostracizing someone who has done harm is the right answer, but they’re an important reminder that people who are not villains can still make villainous choices. We must continue to use our best judgement, and most importantly, take responsibility for speaking up if we see warning signs.
I have chosen to maintain my friendship with someone who abused his power. Though I’ve forgiven him, It’s not something I can or should forget. One of the things I want from my own friendships is for my friends to care enough to speak up when I seem to be making a villainous choice, and I consider that to also be one of my responsibilities to my friends – and for that matter, to the world.
Going forward, I commit to being more careful about the stories I choose to share, and ensuring they are fully mine. And I re-commit to holding my friends accountable when they cause harm. I want to express my gratitude towards the survivor for reaching out to me, and for asking me to post this addendum. At the end of my post on integrity, I expressed my hope that we would be held accountable to the values we expressed. It’s uncomfortable when it happens, but I did mean it, and I’m glad to have been held to my word.