The Path to Redemption for People Who’ve Done Bad Shit

For those of you who have been exposed as part of #MeToo, there seems to be some confusion about when, precisely, you’re allowed to come back into the world and pick up where you left off. It’s not just your male allies asking. I’ve had a couple of women friends say, “Now what? Are they just supposed to disappear forever?”

Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t care if you did; I don’t think the world has been worse off without you in the public eye. But that’s not practical, yada-yada, plus it makes me sound like a crazy extremist.

So. You want a plan? Here’s a plan.

Right now, my working definition of reckoning is:

Demonstrating a deep, detailed understanding of

  • What you did
  • The impact it had
  • Why it was fucked up

Without doing this, you can’t move ahead. And it’s hard, because it requires empathizing with people you always saw as less important than you who somehow managed to ruin your life by talking to reporters and telling their stories.

If you need some inspiration, read or listen to Dan Harmon’s extended, extremely honest apology for sexually harassing a writer on his staff. I’ve been using this as an example for so many months I’m a little tired of referring to it, but until someone else comes along with this level of self-awareness, this remains, as the writer in question Megan Ganz said, a masterclass in how to apologize.

Almost every other #MeToo apology I’ve read — and I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all — has reminded me of a kid saying, “There. Can I go now?” If you want to see this in action, read the non-apology apology Dustin Hoffman offered in response to my story about being sexually harassed by him when I was 17 and compare it to his indignation when John Oliver asked him to talk about what happened during a panel discussion. The first was very carefully crafted by a team of lawyers and PR people. The second was how he really felt.

This step is much more fun. Think of all the ways you can use your money and skills and influence to help level the playing field!

In her Golden Globes speech this year, Laura Dern said it’s important to protect and employ women who speak out.

David Roberts on Twitter suggested Louis C.K. “use his immense wealth to establish an organization that identifies budding female comedians and matches them with resources, connections, bookings, and mentors.”

Rebecca Traister has some good suggestions too.

Read up. Do some research. Use your imagination. We’ll never get back what’s been lost, but there’s still a lot you can do to repair some of the damage.

But…and this is the part you’re not going to like: after you use your money and influence to do some good, you need to get out of the way. So yes, establish a fund or an organization, and then let others who have not abused their power run it and decide how it’s going to work.

Here’s the thing — and there’s no gentle way to put this — YOU DON’T GET YOUR OLD LIFE BACK. I know you want it. I know you feel robbed. But no. You don’t get back what you had.

Not being the center of the story may be even harder than honest, empathetic reckoning. Because if you’ve been publicly accused of some heinous shit, then you’re famous enough that the press cares, and if you’ve reached that level of fame and influence, chances are high your ego and narcissism got you there. So yeah, realizing the story isn’t about you anymore will be hard.

I have to be honest, I’m not sure what this looks like. I mean, if anyone were to actually do one and two, then hell yes, I’d think they were redeemed. But no one has. So I can’t promise redemption.

Here’s what I can promise: You’re going to piss people off no matter what you do. You’re going to stumble, and you’re going to miss the point. But if you are genuinely curious, well-intentioned, willing to listen to your critics, and able to put your ego to the side, then you have an amazing opportunity to contribute to the public conversation in a constructive way and use the position you’re in — which feels so shitty to you right now — to help reshape the world for the better.

Follow Anna Graham Hunter on Twitter.

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Brooklyn native, LA convert