It’s Complicated

As we watch Joe Biden try to figure out how to answer for himself….and as I think back to Al Franken, there has always been a few things that occur to me.

I am never going to minimize a person’s discomfort in having their personal space invaded. You have a right to that space. But let me add something to the conversation.

I fully realize it is different for men….women have a history of having to put up with way too much when it comes harassment and male intrusions; but personal intent is still important.

Let me explain something about myself. I was raised in a family that avoided the touchy feely stuff. My parents weren’t huggers. I can’t say whether that was wrong or right…it was just the way it was.

Because of that, I have never been comfortable with the serial huggers in our circle of acquaintances. You can see it coming – they will throw their arms up in the air and speed up to approach you. Then throw their arms around you and squeeze…sometimes with a side to side shake.

I realize that there is no intent to this, but I cringe whenever I see it coming. I know they are just being friendly and nice, but for me, it is pretty unnatural.

Are they doing something wrong? Absolutely not. The problem is me not them. I know that and I accept that. Usually I will try some blocking moves like trying to look the other way or quickly putting out my hand as my hint to stick to a handshake. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t.

Again, I am not complaining about this and I am not saying any of the huggers should stop. The action and intent are really harmless. And a little discomfort has been acceptable over time.

But any kind of sensory contact is open to interpretation – especially when a man greets a women in a contact way. I have watched Joe Biden for years and I know that I would cringe a bit in his presence, but I am firmly convinced that he only makes these gestures with the best of intentions. Yes, he invades personal space but only because he wants you to know that he wants to give you his full and undivided attention and, in his way, to make you feel important to him.

The best intentions can be interpreted in the wrong way and I understand that some women will be made to feel uncomfortable. I know that the statements that have been made about this discomfort have been sincere and need to be explained and addressed. And, yes, Joe Biden needs to evaluate the way he talks and greets people. But it is very hard to fault him for being affectionate and open to everyone he meets. He maybe just needs to read the social cues more – and I would guess that in his own circle, his behavior is accepted and perfectly normal. It is the way he is.

As I look back on when Al Franken was forced to resign from the Senate, I think we may have exceeded the significance of what he did slightly as well. Certainly, we were wrong about it being any kind of sexual assault. I am not going to say that the things he did are totally excusable, but I have followed Al’s career all along as well, and his method of meeting people is somewhat similar to Biden’s in that he wants to make people feel they are welcome in his sphere. As we are all learning in the #MeToo era, this has more limits than we were willing to look at before. And it is a very good thing to be examining that and changing legalities and social mores about it.

I was one of those who thought Al would have to resign. I based that on whether or not he would be able to be effective in the Senate. But looking back on that time and what has happened since, I feel that maybe we have here, an instance of over reaction. What Al did with that picture was sophomoric and very rude and very worthy of rebuke, but I am not sure it rises to the level of resignation. And as for the other women who complained about hand placement….well, yes, that too should be addressed as inappropriate, but having watched Al and the parade of picture taking that has gone on over his Senate campaign and career….the thousands of pictures taken, I would can imagine that there were several times when he made some women uncomfortable as he pulled them closer for a “good” picture. Probably more than we know, even now. But as in the case of Joe Biden, he is a “serial get in your space person”, without any kind of malicious intent. If you look at the stories told, it is almost universal that no one says anything at the time it happened, but feel the discomfort as they look back on it. It is complicated. Hard to determine what is fully right or fully wrong.

We want our people who run for office to still “press the flesh”, but we also have to learn how those interactions should be done properly. I have seen people push themselves into the candidate’s space as well. And all the candidate can do is smile and look attentive.

Joe Biden needs to re-examine how he interacts with people and I feel that he will do that. It will be difficult to make any big changes because Joe is a “serial hugger” like many people you and I know. But this is a different time and that calls for self examination and change.