This year I’ve missed the social media campaign #30daysofthanks. Following the #metoo opportunity for confronting the prevalence of sexual abuse, and the ever-increasing revelations from Hollywood and other areas of celebrity culture, perhaps an awareness of gratitude is something our society desperately needs.
In a society that has consistently ignored – or swept under the rug – the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, what we’ve learned is that all it takes is one strong voice to illuminate the darkness. One case has led to a watershed moment in American culture. Hollywood has magnified the reality of ongoing abuse in so many different environments, not only here in our country, but throughout the world.
As #metoo spread across social media last month, it was difficult not to confront the fact that so many individuals had experienced sexual coercion, intimidation, harassment or assault.
Indeed, in just 24 hours, Twitter confirmed that the hashtag was tweeted nearly half a million times. And yet, for every person proclaiming their story publicly, we must remember that likely just as many chose not to do so.
If anything, this moment taught us not only the prevalence but also the widespread nature of the term abuse.
Too often we relegate the term to its most horrifying allegations of rape and violence, but this provided a teachable moment to define the spectrum of abuse. #metoo illuminated what has been considered commonplace in certain industries. Hollywood has had its fair share of abuse, but what about other everyday industries and professions?
This was the question posed by one of my students in her advocacy project for my class. Prior to the trending hashtag, my student had decided to volunteer at a shelter for women seeking refuge from domestic violence. When #metoo erupted across media platforms, I overheard a discussion between that student and one of her classmates in which she affirmed that there was no going back in our society. The cat had been let out of the bag: we must enforce change. Her classmate remained cynical: Can people ever change?
It’s a fair question. One of my colleagues shared her opinion, deriving from God-given free will. Change is a choice that we can make – every choice shapes us differently. If we recognize within ourselves a desire for change, we can become a different, better version of our current selves.
In one of St. Paul’s letters to the Romans, he recognizes his own frustration of failing to do better: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
St. Paul is, of course, held up as a model of transformation, but in this passage, even after his encounter at Damascus, we see his shortcomings. He desires to do right, to turn away from sin, but struggles with his failures. We see this in our own lives: how often do we make promises to do better and then shock ourselves at our failures?
This is precisely when we most need gratitude. In those moments of weakness, it’s easy to give in to temptation. But if, instead of failure, we thought of all the aspects of our lives for which we have gratitude, our mindset changes. Instead of hopelessness, we are given hope.
There will always be a pull toward the self we fight against – sin will always be a temptation. But we can’t throw in the towel. We keep fighting, knowing that with God’s grace and the strength we derive from our faith, we will, eventually, become better.
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.