On Doubt and Faith

What is a proper relationship between doubt and faith?

I am a Christian. I believe in God. I also doubt God. Does that doubt have a place in proper relationship with my faith? Or is it sinful towards God, revealing a weakness in what should be a perfect and complete trust and faith?

Doubt is a lot of things. This one word encompasses a broad range of feelings I've held about my faith through the course of my life. Doubt can be as extreme as wondering if God exists at all. Or it can be as small as questioning the logic of some specific theological claim.

Doubt is always questioning. But what doubt never is is certainty. Lots of Christians condemn doubt on the basis that doubt is a full, completely assured conversion to atheism. But this is not doubt at all. This is still certainty, just directed towards a different object, a belief in no god instead of a belief in God.

(To be clear, Christians should still not be condemning those who go all the way to explicit atheism. There should still be acceptance and love. Shunning and condemning these people doesn't help them or honor God.)

Doubt is a simply uncertainty: a state of questioning, curiousity, and wonder. When defined this way, doubt has an essential role in a relationship with faith.

God is mysterious and unknowable. God is so beyond the scope of understanding for humans, that perfect certainty in a specific belief claim about the divine is misguided at best and blasphemous at worst. The inherent and fundamental nature of the divine resists our attempts to pin it down.

Any attempt to make a perfectly true and specific claim about the nature of God is like trying to clench a fist around wet sand under the waves. You might grasp some of it, but most will escape between your fingers. Accepting the mystical nature of God would be to hold your open hands under the water, because God is actually the whole ocean. With open hands, you will hold more of the truth of God in your understanding, not rigidly but loosely. And at least you won't be making a foolish attempt to contain the divine within your own limited capacity.

Doubt then, is an awareness and acceptance of our own cognitive and spiritual limitations. This is the only proper posture towards something is grand and mystical as the divine.

Realizing this hugeness of God also teaches us another helpful lesson about doubt. God is neither harmed nor changed when we doubt.

We can question the specifics about God's nature. We can debate the finer points of theological logic. We can write all the mystical music and poetry we want, wondering over the fundamental unknowability of God. We can doubt God exists at all. And none of these have any effect on the actual real truth of God existence. Our doubt and questions could even lead us to beliefs and faith that are incorrect and competely untrue. But that doesn't harm the realities of God. The divine is far bigger, perfectly immutable to the ever changing tides of our beliefs.

This is why the only way to have beliefs that can be true is to have beliefs that incorporate oppeness and uncertainty. To hold your beliefs in open hands creates the possibility for them to be true and allows them to remain that way. As soon as your try to pin down specific truth claims about God, you'll miss, because our brain, our spirit, and our language are fundamentally incapable of completely grasping a divine reality.

Faith is honest and true when it is in harmony with feelings of doubt.

Faith is also alive and growing when married with doubt.

I've been a Christian in some form or another my entire life. I grew up in the church, proclaimed faith in God when I was a young child, chose to be baptized as a boy, etc. I've believed many things about God. Just about the only belief that has survived the last twenty years unchanged is the simple belief that God exists. Nothing else has persisted.

I obviously hope that my current set of beliefs are more true than they've ever been. But I don't think they are perfectly true. They'll continue to change as I learn and grow in my faith. Hopefully, they'll continue to approach truthfullness, but sometimes they won't and that's ok. I still have most of a lifetime of a living and changing faith to keep getting closer.

Changing and growing faith is a good thing. I long to always be learning more about God to develop my knowledge and understanding. The only way for this to happen is to have doubts. Doubt is the change agent for an evolving faith.

When I was five years old, and first starting to believe in and understand God, I held a certain set of beliefs. If I dogmatically claimed those beliefs were perfect and complete, then I would still have the faith of a five year old! This applies to every stage of life. If I dogmatically cling to the perfect completeness of my current faith, I will maintain the faith of a twenty-eight year old my entire life. I don't want to be an old man who is that spiritually stunted.

Doubt and uncertainty allow me to encounter new and more mature ideas about the divine and genuinely consider them. When I can examine and ponder new ideas about God, without them being threatening to some perfect and complete set pre-existing beliefs, then I can mature and grow in my faith.

It's essential to use doubt this way. There are Christians who condemn the ideas of doubt and uncertainty as sinful and a sign of a weak and failing faith, but ironically even they use doubt this way. (All but the most dogmatic of fundamentalists, that is.) Their understanding of God grows and develops over the course of their life. Doubt keeps faith in a state of examination and evaluation, allowing maturity, improvement, and growth.

Doubt is a stance of openness, uncertainty, and questioning towards our beliefs ideas in a massivel, confusing, and mysterious God. The divine is so inherently uknowable, that our beliefs can never claim specific truths about its nature. Combining doubt with faith is the only way for it to find truth and growth. Doubt is a companion to a living and fruitful relationship with the divine.

On Willpower

Ever since I was a kid, I've always found it to be a fun test of will to hold my breath for as long as possible. I would dive to the bottom of a pool and time how long I could stay under. Or I'd simply sit down, take a few deep breaths, and hold it until I couldn't take the pain anymore. It's one of those weird ways that kids like to compete with eachother and themselves by coming as close to dying as possible.

I've found myself taking up this challenge again recently. It's still just as enticing. As an adult, the appeal is less in the flirtation with death, and more in the exploration of the mind exerting control over the body. Not breathing hurts. After a couple minutes your body starts fighting very hard open your lungs again and it takes a considerable and focused effort to resist. Eventually, my body wins. It always does. My mind can fight, but not forever.

This kind of mind versus body struggle epitomizes the exercise of willpower. In this way, willpower is the strength of your mind to exert or resist the impulses of your body. The idea of willpower is often also appied to the struggle of mind versus mind, the fight between your higher and lower brains, consciousness and subconsciousness. The same word is used for both, but the function is very different.

It's a new year and that means it's time to change everything about myself! Setting resolutions for a new year is a fraught activity. But I do it anyway. In intent, it's such a good and hopeful practice: to define the kind of person I want to be and identify ways to become closer to that ideal in the next twelve months.

And one of these ways is to stop snoozing my alarm so goddamn much.

I want to be the kind of person that wakes up with a few hours of relaxed morning time before work. I could make breakfast, move slowly, have the space to journal, hang with my cat, maybe read a book. But I go through phases where I am terrible at waking up in the morning. During these phases, I snooze and snooze. I hate this behavior.

I know I'm sacrificing something really wonderful. And the whole entire time, I'm so aware that I'm making the wrong decision. I'm doing the bad thing. I'm losing. My weakness and badness is stronger than my goodness. But still, I snooze. Somehow it wins. I don't have the willpower.

It's easy for me to perceive trying to adopt new habits, drop bad ones, and change your behaviors as a problem of willpower. My mind needs to be strong enough to make the right choices by resisting or overcoming the urges and resistance that the other half of my mind throws out. This is willpower as mind versus mind. This is willpower as a fight between your good self, the self you want and hope to be, and your bad self, your weakness, your indulgences and vices.

I don't think this is a particularly helpful way of understanding this problem. This isn't a simple matter of strength of will the way it is with holding your breath. Forgetting this fact allows me to punish myself. I snooze away my morning and spend the rest of the day feeling like garbage because I wasn't good enough. This self punishment does me no good whatsoever.

It definitely doesnt' make me more likely to do better the next morning. It actually makes it harder because I'm slowly convincing myself that this is who I am. I'm the weak person who can't get out of bed. I must be incapable of it. I'm telling myself, and convincing myself of, a story that I am bad.

This harmful story is a result of conflating the two different willpowers into the same thing. It does my psyche no harm to say that my weakness is the reason why I could only hold my breath for one minute instead of two. But applying this same black/white and strength/weakness template to the inner battles of my mind doesn't work and hurts.

This harmful template is only believable when I'm failing anyway. I've actually been very good at waking up well this past weak. But not for a second has this felt like a result of the strength of my willpower. There's been no struggle between a good half and a bad half of my brain. No higher goodness in myself being strong enough to overcome my weakness and failings.

I'm not all that sure how this works. I'm not sure of exactly what's going on in my brain that has made it easy this week. Part of it is the excitement of the new year and a fresh start. A personal challenge to change behavior is always fun and easier at first. But I'll have bad days, bad weeks soon I'm sure. And the familiar and damaging template of strength/weakness willpower will seep back in.

I think the most important part of continuing to succeed at building desired habits and patterns of behavior is to consciously reject the act of self punishment.

Silicon Valley Needs to be More Careful

Silicon Valley is in what seems to be a never ending cycle of commiting some shortsighted blunder and making lame apologies. Two notable and recent examples are Twitter verifying Nazis and Google Maps converting walking calories into cupcakes earned.

Charlie Warzel discussed this phenomena for Buzzfeed News:

Since summer’s end, Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies have been embroiled in an endless series of missteps and mini scandals.

. . .

Viewed separately, each of these missteps could be seen as reasonably small but unfortunate errors. All were remedied and apologized for fairly quickly. Each one has its own explanation that, in the right context, feels at least somewhat understandable.

. . .

Baked into the frustration surrounding these gaffes is a sense that Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are incapable of the necessary introspection to see themselves the way their critics might.

“The issue here is that the platform creators are hobbled in their ability to see beyond their own best intentions,” former White House chief digital officer and Silicon Valley veteran Jason Goldman told BuzzFeed News after the Facebook VR debacle. “There's a preexisting bias toward ‘we're doing good.’ . . . "

Best intentions. That's how this is always framed. It's always about their intentions more than the outcome. They claim they won't allow the harmful outcome to happen again. They assert their good intentions. They call the problem solved. And then there's inevitably another blunder. Twitter, Google, Facebook, Uber, Apple. All of these companies do this to varying degrees. They're apologies aren't working.

Let's look at Google and their cupcakes as an example. Google's intention was to make a fun and cute new feature that contextualizes how much walking a user will do on their route; it shows you how many cupcakes it would have burned. It's a silly way to delight and reward the user. What they didn't realize what that this will trigger and shame people who struggle with eating, dieting, body image, etc. Their users and the public shone a light on this through some public outcry. Google plays the supplicant apologist: they had no idea this would be harmful; they obviously didn't intend to cause this harm; thanks to the outcry they have now learned that this can be harmful; they won't do it again. What won't they do again? How will they not do it again? That's where there's not a very good answer. Their answer is to continue to only have good intentions. But that didn't work the first time. Intend all the good you want, you're going to continue to accidentally screw up in serious ways.

Good intentions aren't enough. You must examine the set of conditions that allowed your best intentions to be circumvented. Silicon Valley needs to be more careful.

This pattern of behavior and the accompanying lack of appropriate change from Silicon Valley is forming frustration and bitterness amongst users. We feel this cycle of unfulfilled promises and it is slowly compounding into a real problem. I have overall fairly negative opinions of Silicon Valley companies beause of this. When will these companies learn? How long will we be stuck in this cycle? It's the users who end up shouldering the burden of identifying and reporting these problems. We're performig labor for these companies. That's not how the company-product-customer relationship is supposed to work.

The ideal relationship with a company-product-customer relationship is this: The customer provides revenue (preferably directly and not through advertising), they are allowed to use and benefit from the utility and enjoyment of the product, the company uses the revenue to iteravely change their product over time to make it better and better.

No part of that relationship should involve me doing labor for the company. I am a customer, not an employee. If the users of your product continue to shoulder this burden, eventually their experience using your product will feel like work. It's the company's responsibility to make sure that the changes they make to their products are good, that they are free of unintended consequences, that they aren't manipulatable, exploitable, or harmful. The company needs to evaluate their decisions beyond what their intentions are.

This is hard. It takes tons of work. It takes incredible amounts of time and money. It takes diversity of all kinds to provide all possible perspectives on a problem. It takes lots of effort and lots of care.

When users complain about the latest instance Twitter's harassment problems or Facebook's privacy blindness, we're not just asking the company to avoid making that exact singular mistake again. The deeper need we're expressing is for these companies to be more careful. Put in the hard and compliated work of understanding and evaluating your product and users enough to not create these negative unintended consequences in the first place.

"Move fast and break things" was once the motto for Facebook and it described the general ethos of Silicon Valley as a whole. This mode of operating doesn't serve anyone well. It says that if you can come up with any possible business justification for your idea, then just go for it and see what happens. Figure it out on the fly, and if it makes money or (more importantly) gains users, even better. This is the very idea I'm advocating against. This mentality is reckless and destructive.

Be more careful. That doesn't mean you need to be overly cautious or timid or tip toe your way around being seen as offensive. It means be careful. Take care in your product. Focused, intentional, active care for your creations. Your products should be precious to you and should deserve to be looked after with love, stewardship, and care.

Trump's Nuclear Threat

John Hyten, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command responsible for the use of the U.S.'s nuclear weapons, recently tried to calm anxieties that Trump is a nuclear liability. Kathryn Watson reporting for CBS News:

The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be "illegal," saying he would look to find another solution.

This is only mildly comforting.

In conversations with friends as far back as April 2016, I was predicting, with a reluctant and fearful certainty, that Trump was going to win the presidency. This was a very vocal and, right up until election night, a very ridiculed prediction. Ever since Trump's actual election victory one year ago, I've held a similarly fearful prediction: Trump is going to use nuclear force.

I've kept this prediction much quieter. I expose it only in a hushed panic. It's too big, too incomprehensible, and it seems too ridiculous. But in my mind, it feels just as true as my prediction of election victory. Both are things I seem to know with an unaccountable certainty. It should be obvious that I didn't want Trump to win the presidency. But this new prediction, that we will see the U.S. once again unleash nuclear force on the world in our near future, engulfs my mind in an encompassing panic. It simply can not be allowed to happen.

The fact that Hyten is using even such mild language to express any level of resistance to the president is both comforting (there's important and powerful people who genuinely hold similar fears and are willing to act: good) and terrifying (top military commanders have such distrust of our president that they have to publicly state their position as nuclear babysitters: nightmare). These comments aren't entirely reassuring. Hyten states that he would resist an "illegal" order. Frankly the idea that there exists such a thing as a legal use of nuclear weapons is bad enough.

I hold a firm belief that nuclear weapons should never have been used in the past, should never be used in the future, and should never have existed in the first place. This makes all of Trump's tweets regarding North Korea so terrifying to me. He doesn't state an explicit desire or intention to use them, but he belies an assumption that there's obviously a right place and time to use them, and maybe just maybe North Korea will create those circumstances for him.

Humans have done many terrible things. There have been countless atrocities and genocides. But what the U.S. did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki ranks very close to the top of the greatest acts of evil ever committed by humans upon other humans. What befell Japan was a level of destruction of land and life that I don't think we've ever really reckoned with, or have found ways to comprehend. What our current nuclear arsenal is capable of exceeds that by far. America has spent the time since World War II, especially in competition with Russia, frantically trying to increase the destructive power of our weapons. I grew up after the Cold War ended, so I never knew a world with justifiable fears of nuclear war until now. And the prospect terrifies me in my marrow.

I have to intentionally and actively not think about this too much. What can I do? When faced with the looming specter of unlimited death, what possible action can I take? That helplessness, combined with the sheer magnitude of the consequences, can create a feeling of deep despair. So part of me would rather just pretend it's not a problem. Whether it happens or not, there's nothing I can do about it.

But sometimes I do think about how it'll feel. How will I find out? Will it be breaking news on a nearby television? Maybe a call from a family member who saw it first. Or will it be like most news about tragedies, an unexpected flood of tweets. Will I wake up one morning to discover that while I slept, the single greatest atrocity in history was inflicted upon the people of North Korea? Will I continue to lay in bed, scrolling through Twitter, my brain trying to wrap it's head around the fact that the president just decided to become one of humankind's greatest enemies?

All of this scares me to death. I can preemptively feel a weight of history on my shoulders. Of all the humans that have ever lived, only a small portion are alive right now. What will it mean to be one of the people alive when it happens, when real nuclear war is unleashed for the first time. I think we all, the collective generation alive for this event, will bear a permanent stain, a stain that above all other things, will be how history remembers us. We will be the generation who allowed this. My self pity asks why I have to be part of this stained generation. Why does my short life have to overlap with this likely event.

There are so many problems in the world. Most of them are problems that I can do something about, problems closer, more tangible, more immediate. But I don't think there are any problems in the world currently bigger than Trump as a nuclear threat. There's nothing with greater consequences. If anything can be done to prevent that, it must be. I've never before wanted so badly to be wrong.

The Satisfaction of Raising Your Food

Kate Bernot wrote a funny and earnest story about the trials and joys of raising backyard chickens for the A.V. Club's new food site The Takeout. This passage in particular struck me:

Raising your own food, be it for eggs or vegetables or bacon, has never been an easy task. Weather happens, predators kill, diseases wipe out your crop. It’s why we shop at grocery stores. It’s easy. Raising food—at least raising food the right way—is hard.

I have a meager history of raising my own food. It's a romantic notion, fresh eggs every morning for breakfast, picking fresh tomatoes ripe of the vine in the summer, a pantry and stomach stocked and nourished with the work of your own hands. But it's true that the reality of it is always more difficult, frustrating, and grosser than you imagine it to be.

My family grew up on an old farmhouse in the Massachusetts countryside. We were surrounded by people using their land to provide for themselves in small ways. When I, the youngest child, reached adulthood, my family dispersed in a way that left me living in the old family home with my sister and her husband for a time. I didn't have much of a say in the decision, but we ended up with chickens. Baby chicks start as one of the top five cutest animals of all time, and with alarming quickness, turn into creatures that are basically loud, feathered, insects. They're horrid.

Chickens are profoundly stupid. They're brains are capable of barely two things, walk and peck. They have no higher cognitive function, no awareness, they just blindly wander whatever space their in, and then peck wildly at the ground, hoping that food will end up in their mouth. They also produce an incredible amount of poop. About a dozen chickens living outside pooped enough to keep our driveway and moderately sized yard coated constantly. Eventually the chickens all succumbed to the hunger of the local foxes and coyotes. But while they lasted, they might've been worth it because of the eggs.

Ah! The eggs! Even the meager grocery store egg is a thing of uncommon beauty. The egg is a perfect food. It can be prepared in a near infinite variety of ways. It plays necessary supporting roles in so many foods, and even a humble fried egg can be a magical experience. The fact that these nightmare feather monsters daily produce one of God's greatest culinary gifts to mankind is a paradox of the highest order. And the eggs produced by a chicken doing nothing more than roaming a yard on a diet of grass and insects are so beyond the grocery store egg. They almost make owning chickens worth it.

Before the terror chickens and their holy eggs, my only other experience with raising food was my dad's garden. For a stretch of my childhood my dad turned a large section of our yard into a small farm. He spent countless hours out there, the sun cooking his bare back, tilling, planting, weeding, and tending to the harvest of his handiwork. There were always tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, zucchini, squash, and green beans. Some years there were potatoes, corn, watermelons, or strawberries.

A decent sized vegetable garden can produce an unexpected amount of produce. I remember countertops piled with zucchini and summer squash. I remember the overflow stuffed into plastic grocery bags piled into the car on the way to church in hopes to find anyone else who would eat our surplus of vegetables. I remember the sheer delight of feeling hungry and not walking to the fridge or the pantry for some boxed snack, but instead walking outside and just plucking a bell pepper and some green beans. There's a visceral connection to the earth when you can enjoy its fruits so directly grown through your own labor.

My responsibilities in the garden were few. My father was always the planner, the one with the knowledge of when and how to plant. But I followed instructions and could take pleasure in laying out the rows, planting the seeds in their small hills, weeding the soil, trimming, and picking. It wasn't always a pleasure though. Managing a garden can be hard work. You get tired, and so so dirty. I was a teenager for the garden years, and would often rather be playing video games or reading than sweating to death in the humidity when, wait, why don't we just buy these at the grocery store?

I don't know if it's the separation of time, or if it's an actual truer appreciation of what is good in this world, but the idea of raising and cultivating my own food is much more appealing to me now than it was in the times when it was actually a part of my life. Part of it must be the fact that I don't live in the countryside anymore. I live in a fourth floor apartment in a gross shopping district in Austin. I couldn't have chickens or plant a garden if I wanted to. Something off limits to you will always be more attractive. The closest I get to food that comes from the labor of my own hands is the (not quite so) weekly loaf of bread I make from scratch.

Bernot is right. Grocery stores are so easy. I wish they weren't so. I do about half my shopping at a Whole Foods within walking distance. Whole Foods over curates their selection to the point of feeling coddled, or funneled into a narrow subset of choice. You can't just use Whole Foods to buy groceries like a normal person. You have to use Whole Foods to buy groceries in the Whole Foods™️ way. They preach a natural and direct relationship with your food, but I've never felt so separate from it.

An important part of the satisfaction of the raising your own food is the work. Hard work. Sometimes work that sucks and you don't want to do it. But the fruit is all the sweeter for the sweat that went into it. One of my dissatisfactions with the Whole Foods-style grocery stores is the ease of it, the way they tell you, "Don't worry. We got this." I don't want them to got this. I want to got this.

I hope to find ways that I can create more relationships with my food that resemble my sister's chickens or my dad's garden. I don't mean this in the popular, capitalist-driven obsession with "natural" and "organic" foods. But in the way where I am more responsible for the creation of the food I put into my body. There's a satisfaction in knowing your hands did more than pick something off a shelf, but helped bring it to life in the first place.

Religions and Their Cultural Influence

If you love religious history, statistics about religious history, and mapping those statistics about religious history, then you'll surely love Lyman Stone's recent mapping of religious attendance and beliefs in America. You can see how popular Judaism, Lutheranism, or even the belief in biblical inerrancy are. These are all U.S. only, but are broken up by county, so provide a fantastic level of detail.

Some of the revelations are not surprising: Mormonism is relatively dominant in Utah; Muslims tend to live in cities that draw recent immigration; Southern Baptist believers live in, well, the South of all places. These are obvious. A little bit less obvious is the validation of my personal experience living in Massachusetts: the strong presence of Catholicism in New England. Catholicism holds strength in the southwest as well, primarily due to Latino immigration, whereas New England's Catholicism is sourced from earlier Irish and Italian immigration. I lived in southeast Massachusetts and was particularly exposed to the small, but strong and pervasive, pocket of Portuguese Catholicism.

What was surprising to me was the actual numbers generating these maps. According to the actual data source, my old home of Bristol County, MA has some impressive attendance numbers for the Catholic church. A full 52% of the entire population regularly attends a service at a Catholic church on Sunday. I was initially surprised by a number this high, but after reflecting, I can't think of very many kids and their families I went to school with who weren't going to mass every Sunday.

The reason why this is interesting to me is because the culture of the Catholic church is so dominant in the Boston area. I never noticed until I moved to Austin two years ago. I hadn't ever lived anywhere else, so it seemed so default. But now that I'm removed from it, I can feel the lack. All the stereotypes of Catholic life were there. There was religious iconography everywhere. Everyone was in a constant state of resolutely withstanding a baseline level of guilt and shame. Most people strictly adhered to religious tradition, but kept it separate from their actual personal everyday lives. These observations were especially distinct against my upbringing as an Evangelical. I'm surprised to learn that at a 4% attendance rate, I was solidly part of a religious minority in Bristol County.

Part of living in Austin now is feeling the real lack of Catholic influence. I don't know anyone Catholic, I don't see their churches or imagery around the city. I don't feel the Catholic lifestyle or modes of thinking in the people I interact with. And I actually miss it. Austin is an island of secularism and liberalism and the dominantly Christian and conservative state of Texas.

When I looked at the data for Travis County, TX though, I was shocked. Catholicism is the most popularly attended religious group here at 17% of the population regularly attending a service at a Catholic church. What's preventing me from feeling the cultural influence of catholicism here? This is significantly lower than Bristol County's 52%, but it should still be somewhere?

I have a guess. Texas Catholicism primarily comes from Mexican immigration. And Austin's lack of racial integration results in a lack of religious integration. I'm white and make close to median income, and I think that unfortunately, I'm separated from the poorer, browner parts of the city. That's as much the fault of systemic forces on a citywide scale as much as it's the fault of my own comforting self-isolation.

At 8% of the population attending, the Southern Baptist Convention is the second most popular religious group in Travis County. Demographically, I am much a much stronger match with people attending Southern Baptist churches. I see them around neighborhoods I spend time in and pass through all the time. But I still don't feel their influence. Perhaps I'll only understand the current Southern Baptist influence after I leave Austin, and start to notice its lack. But for now, no religious group in Austin feels like it undercurrents the culture the way the Catholic church does in Massachusetts.

This may sound like a strange claim, and I don't yet know how to expand on it, but the Austin tech startup industry's cultural influence is actually the closest thing I feel to Bristol County Catholic church's cultural influence.

Dealing with Sexual-Assaulting Normal Dudes

It feels never ending. The flood of women accusing men of sexual harassment and assault. It didn't start with Harvey Weinstein. But his accusation last month, finally crossing the too steep threshold of publicity and concreteness, was a levy failure. It won't end with Louis C.K. either. The prevalence and momentum behind this issue has forced this to the front of mind for many, myself included.

I've never been more aware of the prevalence of the threat women face, especially in the workplace. And, as a man, I'm clumsily trying to figure out what my responsibility is in relation to these situations. And unfortunately, my responsibilities can be be terrifyingly immediate.

Someone close to me was recently sexually assaulted. Myself, the victim, and the assaulter all work for the same company. It happened outside of work. The victim no longer works in the same location, but the assaulter and I work in the same place. I see the assaulter around at work sometimes. That's as specific as I'll be.

This is a situation that I don't want to ignore. I can't if I tried. I have to see them around work, reminded every time of the horrendous violation they committed against someone I care about. I very rarely get angry, but I often have a strong impulse to just publicly, loudly, in the middle of an office, proclaim their crime for all to hear. That would probably be the least helpful thing.

But what can I do? I'd love to report them to HR. Name them and use the system to execute justice. But these systems so often fail. And if it does, I've taken my one chance to no avail. What escalation is there after that? And if it does fail, the situation becomes more dangerous and fraught. And what a powerful statement to the abuser that they can get away with it, that they are safe, accepted, above consequence. Even direct professional channels of justice are not powerful enough to combat a mere scumbag without boundaries.

Admittedly, all this is about me and my response to the situation. But it shouldn't be. The person in this whose wellbeing matters is the victim. My decisions and priorities need to be subordinate to their own. Any action I take against the abuser will inevitably have some consequence for the victim as well. I can't force a victim to relive their trauma because I didn't allow my discomfort to remain secondary to their pain.

But I worry about others. I don't want this abuser to be a danger to anyone else. Can any action I take against them be protective of others? Anything short of a loud and public outing will still leave others vulnerable to their threat.

A common theme of the celebrity accusations lately has been the open secret. Weinstein, CK, Spacey, etc. have all been whispered and talked about for many years. It didn't take much familiarity with them as public figures to know that people were afraid of them, to know who they truly were. This is not the case with this abuser. They've been an acquaintance of mine for years. There are no whispers, rumors, or group chats of women warning each other. Everyone who knows them sees them as a normal dude. I see them as an otherwise normal dude who sexually assaulted my friend.

The dawning awareness, the dismantling of my naiveté, that there are plenty of sexual-assaulting normal dudes, is another driver behind my impulse to do something. I want it to be normal behavior, standard procedure, to learn about an abuser and report them. I want to encourage and build the pattern so that next time I discover one of these people, I can take action more easily. So others can take action more easily for their first time or next time. My work is full of normal dudes. How many of them have sexually assaulted their friends? How many more times will I face this crisis?

I feel like I have an opportunity to do something here. To contribute in a small way to my corner of the world. It's a shame that I do not know how to take appropriate action in this situation. But I hope, through not ignoring the problem and focusing on the victim's needs and not my own desire for justice, that I can contribute to a solution. I hope I never have to deal with this situation again, but I'd like to be capable because that's awfully wishful thinking.