Love the message, hate the messenger

When I first heard John Mayer sing "Your Body is a Wonderland", I , like most other warm blooded females, felt my heart, my brain and my nethers sing in tingly harmony. I mean, the man is celebrating his beloved and her body and their lurve discovery in a sensitive, woman-centered song. What's not to like?

Then came the interviews where he spewed sexist, racist, homophobic crap and I basically can't listen to any of his songs anymore.

"If you want love, we'll make it" now sounds less like a loving invitation and more and more like an lecherous imperative.

I know we are all multi-faceted creatures, capable of a stunning combination of positive and negative behavior. But what do we do with someone who, let's say, produces great art but is a raging asshole in the rest of his life? How do we reconcile the beauty in someone with the "My dick is sort of like a white supremacist" beast? Does one cancel the other out?

I'm currently having this problem as I read a particularly helpful book. It is filled with information about the ways that children learn and how we can help them capitalize on their particular set of strengths and manage their particular set of weaknesses. After reading many books that jump into the alphabet soup of labels, it's been a welcome revelation to read this view: that while we all have weaknesses, only some get labeled, only some will show up in school. Our job, as parents and teachers, is to help our kids understand how their own unique mind works and find a life path for which they are well suited.

This book was recommended to me by a dear friend who works with learning disabled kids as The One to read, though she warned me of its author's issues first. I've begun making a mental list of the friends who might benefit from its information. As I read, Dr. Levine's tone is warm and engaging, especially as he invites us into his sessions where he celebrates a student's strengths while also helping them manage their weaknesses.

But, also as I read, I cannot get out of my mind that Dr. Levine was charged with sexually abusing over 50 of his former patients and eventually committed suicide in 2011, the day after he was formally charged. Every anecdote, every patient he writes about with such apparent care and wisdom, could be one of the ones who now accuses him of abuse.

I know he was never proven guilty. I know he maintained his innocence, up to and including his suicide note (Why, yes, I did Google his suicide note. Technology for the anxiety-producing win!). But after reading enough reports from the accusers, it seems like an awful lot of smoke to not be coming from a fire.

It is not my job to determine his guilt or innocence. But as I continue to read this book and find more and more wisdom in its pages, I am increasingly sickened that such a person might also be capable of something so horrible.

What are we to do with the message when the messenger is deeply, deeply flawed?


Gina said...

I am pretty much ignorant of popular culture so I had no idea that he is such an idiot - but wow, clearly, not a winner of personality.

I think it depends on how deep the flaw - if the flaw is so great that I can't concentrate on the message than I would probably ignore the person and the message.

It also depends on how the flaw is related (or not) to the message. If there is anything that really makes me disrespect a person it is being a hypocrite.

Cortney said...

Ooof. I'm not sure I could read that book and take anything seriously that he wrote, knowing all you've just shared with us. Maybe if we was accused of money laundering or adultery or something else, I wouldn't confuse the message with the messenger. But working with kids and abusing them? Can't do it.

pamela said...

Well, I certainly struggle with this myself. I think this is where compassion comes in, as in "starving people eat garbage."

I guess it shows that even at our worst, we have gifts to give.

KG said...

My belief is that abusers were abused. Except in the (incredibly rare) case of true sociopaths, I think there is only one way someone becomes an abuser of children and that is if they themselves are survivors. I also believe that surviving any kind of abuse, but especially sexual abuse, can lead to extreme dissociation and even multiple personality disorders. Abusers may truly have no memory of the instances where they abused children, because it is another "part" of themselves acting.

It seems tragic to me that Dr. Levine may well have been called to serve children because of his own (presumably, unremembered) history, and may also have (unconsciously?) repeated this pattern of abuse.

I believe it is possible that he had multiple parts at work in his life- part that was wise and wanted to help children heal, and part that was abused and wounded and continued the pattern of abuse.

Somehow, this makes it ... easier (not easy!) to take in the wisdom that may be found there.

grammalouie said...

KG, I respect and appreciate the wisdom in your comment. Understanding is the key to tolerance and, even sometimes, acceptance. Thanks.

momof3 said...

WOW! I had no idea that he committed suicide or that he was accused of abuse. I found his book and others he wrote such treasures especially as I have struggled to help my daughter with special needs.

Nik-Nak said...

I totally understand what you are saying about John Mayer but LAWD I love that man!!

He could spit on me and I'd still be in love.

twisterfish said...

Once again you post something that really gets me thinking.... thank you for that. I'm usually quick to judge, and thought I knew what I would do, how I would feel, but after reading all the thoughtful comments here, I'm not sure how I feel about it all. My eyes have been opened to looking at this in a different way.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Cortney- Exactly. I have forgiven some prominent politicians for their marital transgressions because I still believed in their ability to govern, if not their ability to be a faithful husband. It is the close association of the wisdom and the abuse that leaves me so perplexed.
pamela- "I guess it shows that even at our worst, we have gifts to give." <--- Thank you for this.
KG- As always, you are so wise. I deeply appreciate your perspective, and I may have to reread it regularly as I finish this book.
twisterfish- I know, right? I feel the same way. Still not totally sure what to feel. And that's okay.

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