When not travelling my base camp is an apartment just across the street of the large city park that borders a small forest, in Ljubljana. And the other day I went for a walk into the wood, around midnight, after having spent most of the day in front of the computer – to connect to nature and reset my inner system before going to sleep.
Just before stepping onto the tiny path that led straight in the peaceful darkness of the midnight forest, I saw a man standing on the parking lot, perhaps 20 meters away, looking straight at me. I did not give it a second thought and continued happily into the forest, enjoying solitude, silence, the softness of the whispering of the tree leaves… After about 15 minutes of walking through the forest I encountered a small clearing with a bench and I sat down to enjoy the view of the stars and the moon above. Suddenly I heard steps and that man appeared from the darkness of the forest, walked slowly towards me and stopped perhaps 3 meters away. It felt rather awkward and confusing for a few seconds of silence, and then he suddenly unzipped his pants.
Only then I realized what his intention was and told him, very clearly, that I don’t want him to continue. He quickly zipped himself up, apologized, I told him not to worry and that misunderstandings happen and its OK, and he quickly walked off along the path into the night.
Next day I told this story to two women, separately; to my 22 years old daughter and to my partner, and both reacted in an identical way: saying that they knew from the very beginning where this story was heading, that they would never walk alone in the night into the city park/forest and that they would never, never, never enter the forest/park when seeing that a man was standing there staring and them.
Through this conversation I again – not the first time in my life and probably not the last time either – realized what a different and privileged my reality of a man is. I haven’t been violated, touched and groped against my will and by people I never would want to be touched on a weekly, if not on a daily, basis throughout my adolescent and very fragile years. I have not lived with a constant fear of experiencing sexual abuse in buses, trains, public places, schools… I never had to continuously scan the environment for the potential threats to the extent that most women did. I was never pondering whether to enter an elevator with other people in it, regardless of their gender or number – which is very often the precautionary measure for girls and young women.
It brings up humility in me.
To what extent can I at all, being a man, understand how it is to be rapeable, under the constant threat of sexual abuse? To what extent can I, with my white skin, understand how it is to be of color in white society? To what extent can I, being healthy, at all understand how it is to be a physically disabled person, struggling to fit in, to move, to get onto a bus, to be seen as an equal…?
Perhaps I can just, with deep humbleness, listen, attempting to open my heart and empathize.
Or perhaps there is more I can do than just being an empathic witness, hoping to be seen in my intentions and enjoying the thought about how different I am from all these “sexist, racist, violent” people. Maybe I can assert my power, my privilege, to bring more balance into this world. Just like in the case of seeing a parent beating up their child in front of me, I have a choice to think “what a terrible parent and what a poor child, I would never do such a thing” and walk away, or I can engage and use my power to protect life. The choice here seems quite clear, right?
But what if a child is not being beaten in front of me, but I know many of them are beaten up just about every day, behind the walls that I pass by. What if a young girl is not being raped in front of my eyes, but I know many of them are sexually violated and traumatized for life over there, behind the walls that I drive past? Perhaps I can do more than just quietly meditate in my room, blissfully walk among the trees and enjoy the beauty of life. Perhaps I can engage more, seeing all of us as one single family, and use my power to protect life. Knowing that it is about all of us. As it has always been, all of us together.