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I had to write this. If not me, who? If not now, when?

Ralph Twombly

On the Me Too Website

You are not alone. 17,700,000 women have reported a sexual assault since 1998.

 

Men, if you are anything like me, you have been watching and wondering what happened to the lives of the women around us. Maybe we feel like we are not the problem, and, I sincerely hope that I haven’t been a contributor. Could we have contributed through our ignorance? Maybe our lack of vision and ignoring all the signs while having been personally consumed in our own worlds has made us blind? I know, that sounds harsh and I mean no insult. You wouldn’t want a guy like me to candy-coat the fact that many of us didn’t know what was happening to the women we love.

I bet I’m not the only man who is wondering about what we should do about this finally disclosed epidemic of bad behavior. I say disclosed because the misbehavior and abuse of power we have been given is acute, or is it just because the social climate is now ready to hear the truth? Either way, this level of crazy has been going on for a very long time. In fact, it may not be as much of an epidemic as a regrettable and unforgivable way of life that many of us were ignorant of.

Some background – this is personal

The stories that I am about to tell will not have the real names of the women involved because I choose to spare these amazing people any more pain or embarrassment. Yes, embarrassment. That is what they each told me that they feel in hindsight because they inevitably blame themselves. Each felt like they should have been stronger and wished that they simply knew then what they know now.

Before I released this article, I reached out to each of them to ask that I tell their stories. Each were glad that I was telling their story.   

Smart

About 18 months ago I was coaching an executive leader who we will simply call “Smart.”  We worked together over a few months, and a few meetings in which she and I got to know each other like I do with many clients. One day over coffee she confided that she was in a very bad situation at home. She explained that her husband was monitoring her phone daily for texts and emails. He had insisted that she tell him each time she went to lunch with anyone and who she was going with. He had gotten to the point where he would look at her phone when she was away from it for any period of time and out of sight of the phone. Each lunch was followed by a barrage of accusatory questions. This form of power was not new or immediate for Smart. This was cumulative, and we are not talking days or even weeks. As she explained to me that day, it was over a period of years. The pattern had grown from simple information gathering in the beginning to an out and out effort to control her every move. The situation had gotten so severe that he threatened to divorce her and take her children. Over time he used every trick available to “manage” every aspect of her friendships and even her business interactions. Trust is so important in any quality relationship and each day eroded this vital trust more and more until it no longer existed. Smart stayed for her children as the relationship continued predictably, to deteriorate. The day she spoke to me she didn’t really want much from me except to listen and maybe for me to validate that what she was dealing with was not the way it was supposed to be.

Most men have no idea how something like this feels. This was my first exposure to behavior like this, and I have been around for a very long time. My only excuse is that I was blind, insensitive, clearly lacked empathy, missed all the signs, or some combination of all the above. Smart was, and is, one of the most capable leaders that I have met and all indicators were that she had her life clearly in tow. She was navigating her career and life with the precision of a symphony orchestra. In the real world, she was living two very different lives. One life at work where she had “it all going on”, and one at home in which she felt lonely, helpless, frightened and victimized. I promise that I’ll come back to Smart later because it does have a good, if difficult, ending.

Bright

This time, let me tell you about “Bright.” Coming off the Smart experience above, my radar was fully engaged, and I was learning to pay attention to all my senses, particularly when it comes to the women leaders that trust me to help. Bright was and is an accomplished young leader that I was helping transition from one job to the next and we had set up a series of meetings in which she shared her goals and we discussed everything from interview technique to resume writing. I had known Bright for so long that our conversations were fun and easy. One day she sent an email asking that we meet, and we worked out a date and time. I figured that she was lining up an interview and wanted my input. When Bright showed up at the office we settled into the conference room and without direct eye contact as she was looking at a piece of paper she held in her hand, she said, “I have been dishonest with you and I came to tell you that I am sorry.” 

Yeah, you know where this is going, but I didn’t have a clue. Bright had been a very easy client to deal with. Over the years she had attended several of our programs with grace and strength and really high energy to learn. Each time, all we saw was a confident, strong, smart, and capable leadership. People followed her, and she led them with style and confidence beyond her years. The day she told me she was sorry was the day that I found out that she was also living two lives. Her work was extraordinary, and she was the consummate professional. At home, however, she was being abused physically, psychologically and emotionally. She explained that her husband was good at not leaving marks, but the pattern had been going on for a very long time and she was ashamed that each time she came to see me she put on “the face.”  You know “the face,” right? The face that says, “it’s alright and I have this.”  She didn’t “have this” and again, this has a satisfying ending also. No matter how it turns out there is one fact beyond dispute: she was living a life of fear and shame. Not because she had done anything to deserve her fear or shame, but because she chose someone who decided that she needed to be controlled and shamed, and he needed to give her fear. She has moved on from the abuser, but people like her husband are still around and the thing I was learning was that just because you are out of the situation, doesn’t mean the situation is out of you.

Last Story but not the end of the story – eyes wide open

This is my story of awakening and I’m ashamed that it has taken this long. There are more stories. Where have I been and why did I not do something. Much of my life has been dedicated to care and protection from my early childhood with my siblings to the military and then to my work in leadership and, yet, I was blind.

The last story that I want to share happened to me over a short period of about six months. Because of the incidents with “Smart” and “Bright” my eyes were wide open and now, I was choosing to see.

Creative

I met creative because she was doing some work for our organization and this work brought us into discussion routinely over about a six-month period. One day as I was telling the story of Smart and Bright to illustrate a point about culture, Creative stopped and I noticed that she was distracted. The giveaway for Creative was eye contact. She is always attentive and curious. She is truly a sponge for knowledge, and is perpetually interested in the work we do. At that moment I was telling her of my revelations, she looked down at her notes and started to scribble on her pad. She got “that look” and I asked her what just happened. After a pause she began to tell me her story of psychological abuse and subjugation that lasted for years and years. She is one of the more creative and talented people I know. From all appearances she was okay and living the life of an entrepreneur, getting what she wants from her life and giving generously in return. In reality, this seemingly normal person was recovering from years of abuse, and she may never be “okay” again. Her demons will live with her all her life. She is remarried and happy and shared with me that sometimes she has PTSD-type dreams (still) that keep her from doing what she loves.

Creative’s story, like Smart and Bright, are stories of strength and survival. Their stories give many of us conviction to do something, but their stories should never have happened. Not in our great country and not in a time when we hopefully ‘know better.’

These stories are the tip of a very large iceberg. These women had been living with this fear and misery for years. It took me eighteen months to simply see.

Do something, please!

Each of us, men and women need to do something, and this is not my first step. It counts because, as a strong leader, I know that others will follow and lead in their own unique way. I’m telling these stories and I want each of you out there to know that our society has taught us to paint a brave face on each day and don’t let them see your pain. Well, people are in pain and they are all around us. We need to trust that just because they look okay, they may not be okay at all. We also need to stand straight and tall and pay attention. We need to be active and get involved. We need to tell the stories of the victims but we also need to tell the stories of those who life lives of virtue and do what is right at every turn. We all need to listen and then we can, in each person find, the strength to do something.

Back to Smart as promised. She got her divorce, settled her life her way and is now living on her own terms. It is good to see her smile and laugh. She has new friends and is going to be alright because she was/is strong and did the “right thing.”  I’m very proud of her and she will know what I mean. She will write her story now, just like Bright and Creative are doing. This is what we are all supposed to do.

Men, it’s our time to help!

Men, if you know what to do, please do it. If you don’t know what you can do but want to do something, email me, call me, or text me and I will be glad to help you get involved. Please understand that the women we care about so much in our lives can’t solve this alone. They need us as we have always needed them, and they need us at this moment more than ever.

Believe me, if we needed them, they would be here for us!

 

Thank you!!

4.57 (7)


ralph

Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning
Owner/Facilitator


In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.

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Powerful stuff, Ralph. Well written.
Charles Petersen


Thanks for sharing this, Ralph.
Linda Halleran


Ralph, Thanks for sharing this! More men need to stand up and make a positive difference. This is a "moment" being awake and in tune to women's struggles in this regard is a great place to start! Thank you again for sharing.
Scott Smith


Nice job Ralph!
Rob Wilkes


Thank you for writing this article. I am moved and better positioned to act after reading about these three courageous leaders. Thank you too, Ralph, for being the honorable and courageous leader you are and the fact that you attract and develop the same!
Peter Atherton


Nice work, Ralph. Thoughtful and honest.
Deb Sparrow


Thank you Ralph. Right from the heart, I hope you really know how much your words will help others!
Lisa Saulle


Thank you for your powerful words, Ralph. We do need men to take a leadership role in addressing these issues and I appreciate you adding your voice to the conversation!
Johnna Major


Thank you for sharing, Ralph. This is a powerful and inspiring message.
Lorrie Ritter


 

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