Like most Canadians (and perhaps some interested folk south of the border), I have been following reports of the allegations made against former CBC radio and television personality Jian Ghomeshi very closely.
There are many lessons to be learned here–lessons about what consent is, lessons about why victims of assault may choose not to report, lessons about our willingness to look the other way when it comes to a person who has star power, and lessons about how we perceive and treat victims of assault. Many of these lessons are disturbing, but necessary.
There is, however, one lesson I am actually glad to be reminded of as I watch this story unfold on social media and through conversations: we can change our minds.
When it was first announced that Ghomeshi had been fired, the CBC was not saying why, and the Toronto Star was keeping mum until its own story was ready. Several people I love and whose opinion I regard very highly are/were huge fans of Ghomeshi’s show Q, and were furious that one of their favourite media personalities had been dropped by the beleaguered public broadcaster whose continued relevance and popularity (such as it is) are due mostly to shows like his. When Ghomeshi published his version of events on Facebook (in an effort to “get ahead of the story”) these same beloved folks, along with many other die-hard fans, denounced the CBC as prude-ish and out of touch.
When the Toronto Star published the allegations they had collected, and as more women began adding their voices to these allegations (some anonymously, some publicly), Ghomeshi’s initial statement was put under the microscope. And then I got to see a beautiful thing: I got to see people examine the new evidence and change their minds. People that I know had been long-time fans of Q and its host were looking past all that and saying, “Something isn’t right here.”
This might not seem like such a big thing to you. You might say, “Well of COURSE they changed their minds! Who wouldn’t in the face of mounting evidence?”, but the fact is that changing your mind is not always that easy. One only needs to look at the case of Steubenville, Ohio, where irrefutable evidence of the 2012 sexual assault of an unconscious teenaged girl was recorded and shared by her high school football-playing assailants. There was no doubt the assault had occurred. And yet, many people of the community of Steubenville loved their high school football team, and could not change their minds about them. The victim received death threats, despite having nothing to do with either her assault or the fact that the evidence of it was willingly shared on the internet by her assailants. Had the rapist been a shady character the town had always hated, the victim may have been believed and supported, no questions asked. But Steubenville loved their football team, and could not change their minds, even after two of the perpetrators were found guilty in juvenile court.
[You’d have a point if you said that it’s harder to change your feelings about people you know personally and that is true. So I will also provide the example of Roman Polanski, celebrated film directer and convicted rapist, who plead guilty to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl before fleeing the U.S. to avoid his sentence. He is still much loved by many, inside and outside of Hollywood.]
My point is that changing your mind about an issue, or about a person, can be unsettling, and difficult. But often it is the right thing to do. I understand the cynicism felt when certain Republicans (like Dick Cheney and Senator Rob Portman) become suddenly less homophobic upon discovering members of their own families are gay, but the important thing is that these people, who had held very firm views regarding homosexuality, can change their minds. They can think about the person they love and realize that they were mistaken.
When people change their mind in this way it gives me hope. Politicians are often celebrated for being “unshakeable” or “steadfast” in their positions, and sneered at if they are “flip-floppers”, but I’m not so sure that “steadfast” in many of these cases isn’t just another term for “stubbornly and pigheadedly holding to their view of things, regardless of evidence to the contrary”. Much bad policy has been enacted in Canada by governments who wanted to be “unshakeable” rather than adaptable, and “focused” rather than “open-minded”. It’s no secret that I have many problems with Canada’s current “Harper Government”, and much of the legislation I have issue with is a result of this kind of obstinance (scientific or statistical evidence doesn’t support your policy? Why not burn the scientific records, prevent scientists from talking to citizens, or get rid of the long-form census? That’s way better for the country than simply adapting your policies to reflect evidence-based realities!).
Changing your mind, especially if you’ve been very public about your position or beliefs in the past, is uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing. You’d probably feel sheepish admitting you’d gotten it so wrong. And yet, a little change of mind is exactly what we need. Imagine how quickly labour disputes would be resolved if the parties could admit where they were wrong instead of waiting to break each other down. Imagine how much more respect you’d have for politicians if they said, “You know what? The policy we were pursuing no longer works. Upon examining the evidence more closely, it seems that we need to go in a different direction and we will be working towards that.” Imagine if a massive, multi-billion dollar oil company said, “The writing seems to be on the wall and fossil fuels are not the way of the future. We’ve got billions of dollars to spend and we’re going to spend it developing clean technologies.” Imagine the true progress we could make as a species if we could learn to change our ways and change our minds every now and again.
As the late John Lennon sang, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” With each good decision, each humble change of heart, we are, I hope, inching a little closer towards grace.