This week, Washington Senator Pam Roach was removed from the state’s human trafficking task force. The reason? She made insensitive comments about trafficking victims, implying that they could be “illegals” and “probably spend their money on drugs.” Her comments demonstrated a serious lack of understanding and empathy, disqualifying her from being part of a victim-centred effort.
While the comments themselves were the reason for her release, Senator Roach had a long history of abrasive, hostile behaviour and had previously been warned for sowing discord in the work environment. In the context of the task force, her unwillingness to cooperate led other members to feel judged and unheard, stalling their attempt to have a productive meeting. One of the members expressed it like this:
“Continuing to allow Senator Roach to participate in this group will be detrimental, if not fatal, to the process of improving statewide response to human trafficking.”
You may think that my goal here is to vilify Senator Roach for her derogatory comments about trafficking victims, but in fact, this post is not about her at all. It’s about all of us.
Our passion for an issue can push us to take action. But how do we go about taking that action, and how do we treat others along the way? Are we insensitive, bossy, and uncooperative, or do we create a safe space for others to contribute? Are we willing to listen, even when we disagree? Are we easily offended?
Senator Roach had been part of some great initiatives, including legislation to combat child pornography. There is no doubt she truly cares about many issues, but her harsh interaction with others demonstrates a lack of love, crippling the efforts of everyone to work as a team to do something of grand importance – fighting trafficking. Here’s what we can learn from this:
If we create drama, we sacrifice mission.
This is just one of the reasons I hate reality TV. Much of it is manufactured drama, a see-saw of taking offence and inciting revenge, teaching us to obsess over the inconsequential and miss the meaningful. A well-known Biblical passage from Corinthians reminds us that love is what should form the foundation of our work:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Strong words, indeed.
Anti-trafficking efforts can bring out the best – and the worst – in people. When lack of love reaches a policy level, it can wreak havoc on progress.
For example, while Canada’s recent prostitution legislation has many strong elements that, in my opinion, steers the country in the right direction as far as trafficking prevention is concerned, the party that pushed it through often came across as arrogant, mean-spirited, and unyielding. While some in the party were good at building bridges, many preferred to bulldoze their way through to the finish line, isolating people who could’ve contributed much value. This resulted in a law with weaker overall support, diminishing the ultimate goal of preventing human trafficking.
If I do not have love, I gain nothing.
One of my biggest role models is my mom, who is probably the least likely person I know to hold a grudge. Things that would offend others is like water off a duck’s back to her. Growing up, I never heard her speak badly about another person. It’s not that she hasn’t experienced hurt, disappointment, anger, and frustration – she is human after all. But generally speaking she doesn’t get tangled in drama or take sides, and either redirects or weasels away from conversations that carry even a hint of gossip.
Love is not easily angered.
Humans tend to thrive in the context of love, and shrivel up in an atmosphere of animosity. If we have something important to accomplish, let’s leave the drama behind and embrace humility. Our pride should never come at the cost of our mission.