Let's stop thinking about sexual harassment in black and white. Of course it's an unacceptable, disgusting violation. And of course "me too." I'm female. But before we completely annihilate someone's character and disqualify them for a job — no matter what their party — we should ask a few questions: Is this behavior recent (like the last five or 10 years)? Is it a pattern? Does it involve a power disparity or quid pro quo? Does it involve a minor or minors? Does it involve rape? The answers should give us a much better picture with which to judge the person and his ability to do a job. Any society that can have 50 shades of gray in a movie should be able to handle a few shades of gray in reality
Joan Oliver Goldsmith, Bloomington
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I am no fan of Al Franken because we differ in many ways on political philosophy, and I will certainly not vote for him for this reason if he runs for re-election. I think, however, that anyone who believes that he should be drummed out of office for his past moral offenses should read "No Future Without Forgiveness" by Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Franken has admitted wrongdoing, apologized and lived an exemplary moral life for many years, according to several witnesses. This is in sharp contrast to almost all others similarly accused who deny culpability, including some who have held the highest office in the land.
Who of us could stand such ruthless scrutiny that denies the opportunity to learn and grow from past offenses through reflection, confession and forgiveness?
Robert L. Wahlstedt, Roseville
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Let he (she) who is without sin cast the first stone. We all have secrets. We all have done things for which we are ashamed. Most of us are not celebrities or in the public eye, so someone we have wronged has no good reason to divulge the information. If a person has cheated someone, slandered someone, injured someone, no one really cares much, but a sexual indiscretion is appalling to many. We enjoy being appalled. We enjoy finger-pointing. We are hypocrites.
Don Eisenschenk, Minnetonka
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Looking in the mirror, my fellow readers: Forty-nine years ago, when I was 28, after taking part in an academic seminar on sexuality (which I helped facilitate), I stupidly initiated — more or less forced — sex on one of my college freshman students attending that same class. Later, terribly ashamed, I said nothing. Luckily, or I'd have lost my job, he said nothing either. Years later, when I was 41, following my annual job evaluation behind closed doors, without warning my manager grabbed me, forced his tongue deep into my mouth. Stunned, I pushed him away, stumbled out.
Because "me too" has affected so many of us, last week I told the above story to my 80-year-old sister. She shared one of her own. Her manager, closing his office door, asked, then kept insisting she sit on his lap. "I have no idea what came over me," she said, "but I heard myself saying yes I would, if he also invited his secretary in — to sit on his other knee." She paused, smiling — "He never asked again." Neither of us could stop laughing. No matter how old our stories, the telling of them is never too late. With every retelling, we regain the power of sisterhood.
For both women and men, growing up is hard. It never ends. On his website, Sen. Al Franken offers, to any constituent who cares to reply, an invitation to have breakfast together. Clearly, even as a comedian, he learned something about the power of shared stories, the coming together of nobody to nobody. We should not one of us give up on ourselves, give over the power of redemption, including forgiveness, to anyone. Strangers to ourselves, to others as well, we each arrive in our own way. Scrambled eggs and coffee — a good place to start.
Judith Monson, St. Paul
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I am shocked and disappointed by so many sexual harassment reports recently. As a man, I feel like the most detested object in the universe. Yet, I have never groped or coerced a woman in my life. In privacy with other men, I may commiserate about relationships with the opposite sex just as women may discuss their partners in privacy with other women.
However, I have been sexually assaulted by a man. In 1984, just 20 years old, I flew to Washington, D.C., for a job interview to be a journalist working at the Pentagon for a computer magazine. I didn't have my degree yet, but they were highly interested in my joining them. I stopped at a Big Boy restaurant for a meal and was talking to the manager about my upcoming interview. He offered to point out some hotels to stay at. We went outside and, before I knew it, he grabbed my crotch. I was shocked!
I can see how hard it is for anyone to react to the situation. I pushed his hand away and hurriedly left. In retrospect, I should have struck him so he would never do that to anyone ever again. I declined the D.C. job and returned to Minnesota to finish my journalism degree. I have not been back to a Big Boy restaurant since.
Keith Aleshire, St. Louis Park
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Probably all women, and some men, have experienced some form of sexual harassment. This harassment can range from lewd sexual comments to unwanted physical contact to sexual violence and rape. At the least horrible ends of this range, I would be willing to guess that many, if not most, men have been guilty of such behavior at some point in their lives.
There might never be a way to forgive someone for an act of sexual violence or rape, or for any sexual act committed with a child, no matter how long ago that act took place. But forgiveness should be granted to the millions of men who are guilty of "merely" despicable sexual misbehavior at the lower ends of the harassment range. They would only need to meet this criteria: They don't act that way now, they acknowledge their wrongdoing and they offer sincere apologies.
I suggest that all such men tweet using "#Iwasguiltytoo" to let the world know of their admission and to promise never again to tolerate such behavior by themselves or others.
Forgiveness might be granted, and then we can all move on to other important issues affecting our state, our country and our world.
Margaret Rutledge, Orono
BUT THEN …
Sen. Franken, resignation is best
Franken has been a good senator for Minnesota. Frankly, he's been far better than I had imagined. But he should resign immediately. Politically, he will not be taken seriously among his colleagues let alone his opponents. Gov. Mark Dayton should appoint a replacement who would have views generally consistent with Franken's but who would commit not to run for the seat in 2018. Then Franken would spend the coming year dealing with his issues and trying to re-establish connections with Minnesotans, particularly those he has seriously offended, including me. He may decide to run again for "his seat," and he would likely be challenged by DFLers and others who believe they could serve the state better. But at least for Franken, it would be an opportunity to start fresh with a new mandate from the party, or to retire with an excellent legacy in the Senate.
Tom Triplett, Bayport
The writer is an attorney and former commissioner of several Minnesota state agencies.
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To those who think Franken should not resign:
Would you have voted for him if this had come out before the election in 2008 and again in 2014?
Do you think he is the only Democrat who can do all the wonderful things you want him to work on in the Senate?
He should resign and then Gov. Mark Dayton can name another Democrat as a replacement.
Steven Roeder, Coon Rapids