Lessons from a Witch Hunt

My friend, Terry, likes to tell the story of having been accused of inappropriate behavior with two teen girls at school.
It seems the girls reported to the school authorities a couple instances wherein Terry reportedly made suggestive sexual comments to them during school hours and encouraged them to show their private parts. The incidents, as you can imagine, were reported to district authorities who launched a full investigation and completed it without Terry ever even knowing it was underway.

One morning when Terry showed up for school and entered the classroom, school police and other authorities were lying in wait. Without a word, they escorted Terry to a meeting room where a tribunal on the accusations was to be held without notice that very morning. Dumbfounded at what was going on, Terry texted a close friend to come and witness the event. However, upon arrival, he had to wait outside the door of the meeting.

The event began with the authorities citing written and recorded statements from the two girls alleging the crimes and the sordid details of each as well as the procedures of surveillance which had been secretly underway for weeks prior to this morning’s meeting. My friend was given no forum to talk or respond and it was quite apparent that the authorities were convinced of Terry’s guilt as police escorts stood by outside prepared for a trip to jail on the charges.

At the end of the hearing when they asked Terry for a comment before being taken away in handcuffs, the waiting friend was asked to be admitted to the hearing. The leader of the tribunal obliged and the friend emerged in the doorway. As he approached his imminently convicted friend Terry, he said “Hi honey, what happened?” and kissed him on the cheek.

As they stood there together, the “court,” so quick to arrive at a conviction, stared in obvious disbelief and embarrassment at what they apparently had overlooked. Without discussion, the proceedings were adjourned and Terry and his partner, a gay couple, were released to drive home without apology.

No more discussion on the event ensued. Ever. And my friend, so thoroughly disappointed in the leaders of his administration who failed to give him at least the benefit of the doubt, resigned his position and never returned.

There are any number of conclusions you could draw from this story.

Gender profiling, totalitarian tactics, abuse of authority, gay rights, due process…the list is wide open depending on what is most important and salient to you. In fact, as you were reading the story, which incidentally, is entirely true, you were probably drawing your own conclusions along the way, even though no reference was given to Terry’s gender or sexual preference until the very end.

The truth is, nobody listens without judgment. Processing information as a human, requires us to place some presumptive framework around it as we listen in order to be able to process the event as a whole, right or wrong. Stereotypes and primary assumptions have to be made to help the story make sense along the way. The unfortunate part of this is that when the story is completed, we stop there and oftentimes are quick to act on those presumptions of truth and begin our own individual tirades. It’s the difference between expressing an opinion and expressing an informed opinion.

Now go back and re-read the story. Terry (not my friend’s actual name to protect his identity) could have been a male or female, straight or gay, old or young, teacher or student, democrat or republican, and on and on.

Perhaps it’s our fast-paced lives that seemingly demand quick resolves to situations so we can move on to others. Maybe it’s our own individual histories and experiences which indelibly color our views and create knee-jerk responses.

Aren’t we a judging bunch.

But before we go apologizing all over the place for arriving too early and too definitively at sometimes wrong conclusions, don’t. For we are imperfect. Terribly and beautifully imperfect.

Personally, I think my buddy Terry showed great personal restraint and resolve and yes, grace, in the midst of his circumstances, which proved nothing short of a witch hunt. Knowledge of the truth of his innocence waited patiently while he was socially tortured and yet refused to volley the same kinds of judgments at his accusers as they were repeatedly spiking at him.

I believe he knew that at some point, the truth would be given a forum and by its own evidences, would trump the lies of his would- be enemies. This is much like Jesus did upon his accusation, arrest, conviction and crucifixion. He knew his innocence and while he had to suffer undeservedly, in a few days time, the truth would prevail.

I’m reluctant to try to drive home a single point here. There are so many lessons you might walk away with when you close your browser and move on with your day. I do hope, however, that you find one that applies to you. Perhaps how you’re a bit too judgmental and need to keep that in check today. Maybe you are angry at injustices which have been served you like those endured by my friend and need to let go of the hate for awhile. And maybe you will realize the value of a bit more patience in your day at work or home.

Paul Little once wrote, “Truth is Truth, regardless who believes it.” I believe that withholding judgments, exercising patience and managing your emotions, you might also find it to be true and when it comes time to render your own opinions on something important…and the time will come,…your opinion will be a fully informed one.

For those are the kinds of opinions that command respect, attention and admiration of others who still need to learn a lesson from a witch hunt.

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