Thanks to recent news, it seems that most of the men I know are doing a lot of soul-searching about whether or not they could have ever said or done anything that was offensive or threatening to a woman, or–for that matter–to another man. And while it’s important to put a stop to unwanted or unsafe behavior, it begs a larger question that needs to be voiced right now:
When do we start talking about the good guys?
I would put most, if not all of the men I mentioned earlier in this category. Not only would they not deliberately hurt a woman, but if they saw a man acting in a way that was offensive, they’d do their best to stop it. And when I say “guys,” I’m using the word as we do here in Minneapolis to collectively describe all people–male or female, as in “you guys.” Regardless of our gender, any of us can be a “good guy.”
This happened to me years ago. I was new in town, and was attending a dinner of a new professional group I had just joined. One of the men got terribly drunk and started hanging all over me, making suggestive comments. Just as I was deciding how to respond, a man I did not know came from the other side of the room, pulled the drunk away from me, and quietly said to him, “Come on; I’ll take you home.” He walked the other man out, and did not return. He proactively created a calm, dignified peace in what could have been a volatile and damaging situation.
It makes me wonder why the photographer on Al Franken’s plane didn’t simply say, “That’s a dumb idea, Al. I’m not taking that picture. Leave her alone and let her sleep.” Or, for that matter, why anyone else–male or female–traveling on the plane that night didn’t say, “Not funny. Get away from her now.”
I realize that some of the recent stories in the news happened behind closed doors, where there were no witnesses. But in almost every case, others-both male and female- knew about the behavior patterns of those involved. Even if they didn’t want to confront the offenders, I’m wondering why they didn’t warn the women beforehand of the potential for harm.
There are plenty of good guys. And plenty of good women. People who know something is wrong or stupid when they see it about to happen and do their best to stop it, regardless of the nature of the offense. They don’t always succeed, but they refuse not to try.
I saw this just a few weeks ago at a leadership program I was facilitating. There were 25 of us trying to check into the company’s headquarters for a cocktail party with some of the executives. We arrived in a pack, resulting in some confusion for the security guard, who was doing his best to process all of our ID’s to create the name badges we were required to wear in the building.
One of the male guests had a name where both his first and last names sounded like first names, so they were easy to mix up. Given the stress of the moment, the guard made that mistake, and handed him a name tag that was incorrect. The guest didn’t say anything, as I believe he felt compassion for the guard and didn’t want to embarrass him or cause him further work when everyone was waiting. He tried to make light of the fact that he’d have to explain the mistake to every senior person he was about to meet.
But one of the women wouldn’t have it. She quietly asked for the incorrect name tag, walked back over to the desk, and said to the guard gently but firmly: “You got his name wrong. He needs a new tag, please.” The guard rolled his eyes, but it was clear she wasn’t going anywhere until he produced the new tag. Once he did, she walked back to the guest and handed it to him. No shame, no blame. She just stood up for him because it was the right thing to do.
There’s another twist to this story: not only did a woman stand up for a man, but they were of different races. I won’t tell you who was which race, because it doesn’t matter.
When it comes to being a good guy, gender, race, age and any other qualifier you want to name don’t count. Any of us can stand up, speak up, warn or protect any other. And we don’t need to wait for permission to do so.
If we’re tired of all the bad behavior, then let’s start focusing on good behavior and create more of that. The kind we want to see and often do. The majority try to do what’s right, regardless of whether or not they are rewarded for it.
We all know people like this. Chances are good you are one. Think about the last time you taught someone something, rather than shaming them because they didn’t know it. Or when you spoke up in a meeting and said, “Wait a minute. We haven’t heard from (the quietest person in the room).” Or when you heard someone putting down someone else and stopped it. Or when you warned someone about the client whose racial or religious bias could potentially offend.
The question then becomes: are you aware of how good you are? Do you understand the power of good, and what it can do to make our homes, workplaces and communities havens of respect for everyone?
Think of how differently you might feel if you not only knew you were safe because you would be protected from others, but also if they occasionally protected you from yourself. We all make mistakes, and we all have fears that sometimes gain the upper hand that cause us to say or do things we might regret later. But if we knew that others might say or do something to ensure that decency and kindness ruled the moment, the world might become a very different place.
If we truly want an end to this darkness, then we need to bring out more of our own light and be the good guys instead of just hoping for them. There is no question that those who have offended or hurt others, whether purposefully or inadvertently, must be held accountable. But the discussion is not complete without asking what it’s going to take for more of our own goodness to become the dominating force in our interactions.
As the Law of Attraction says, whatever you pay attention to expands. So it pays to notice more of what you want than what you don’t.
As a good guy, we don’t need to wait for trouble. The best time and place for us to practice respect, trust, honesty and genuine kindness is right now, where we are, with whoever’s there with us. It doesn’t matter whether we’re at work, on a bus or subway, shopping for food, at a child’s school or standing in line at a theatre. If we’re with other people, it’s an opportunity to be a good guy.
As long as the bad guys are soul-searching, the good guys can, too–not because they did anything wrong, but because they’re reflecting on how, what, when and why they try to make things right. And that may be the best news of all.
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