It is time we talk about Consent. Actually, it is WAY PAST time we talk about Consent, but hey, I don’t have a Time Turner, and as far as I know neither do you (Wait, do you? That would be amazing! Or horrible. Forget it – I don’t want that kind of responsibility…), so let’s just start with this moment, right here, right now.
So often when we as a society DO talk about Consent, we talk about it very limited scopes: Medical procedures, Car Repairs, and Sex. Yes, I consent to my tonsils being removed, that is why I am here. Please be mindful of my belief system and take that into account. Also, here is how I define family – these are the people permitted to know information about my care. Sure, I consent to the work being done on my car, thanks for checking before doing the repairs and sticking me with a huge bill! Sex and sexual activity? Oh, this is awkward… what does Consent even mean? Hmm…
So let’s talk about Consent. The word Consent is based on the Latin “con” meaning “with, together, thoroughly” and “sentire” meaning “to feel.” In order for a person to give Consent, therefore, they must be on board with the matter, ideally thoroughly feeling a sense of togetherness (within self or others) with regards to the endeavor. But what does THAT look like? Well, have you ever felt super pumped about something? Maybe it was a book you were reading, a new sport you started to play, an enthusiasm you felt when explaining to your sister the EXACT reason why the PS3, at the time, was a cutting edge Blu-Ray player, far superior to other Blu-Ray players? There it was – that feeling of thoroughly being together with an endeavor. See, Consent is way more than sexual activity – it is about Authenticity, it is about our very expression of selves and our souls… and issues of Consent are all around us.
* Do we feel free to express ourselves authentically? Are we nurturing that in ourselves and others?
* Do we feel free to dress the way wish? Eat the way we wish? Love the way we wish?
* Do we feel free to participate in the way in which we feel comfortable?
* Can hold back when we feel that is appropriate and move forward when we feel that is appropriate?
* Have we identified our core values and do we live honestly and courageously according to them? Honest and courageous is not the same as comfortable and luxurious. Remember, people are inherently full of contradictions – it is part of being human. Living honestly and courageously means that we are willing to identify these contradictions and reconcile them as best we can.
Issues of Consent happen every day. When someone says “No” or “No thank you” and another person says “Just try it, you’ll like it.” That is an issue of Consent. A “No” has already been delivered – and negotiating that “No” to “Yes” is now being attempted. I’m not saying don’t try new things or never step out of your comfort zone (or never encourage others to step out of theirs), I’m just saying that honoring a person’s feelings, expressions, and experiences is important. One possible way to check in is: “I know you’ve never hiked this far before and you are frightened. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. I’m right here with you if/when you want to do this, but it is your choice.” Empathy – support – validation – communication.
When someone says “You’re wearing that?!” or “You can’t wear that!” That is an issue of Consent. They are putting their expectations onto another. Perhaps there is a social standard that has been set and not met (the individual is trying to wear a swimsuit to a black tie event), perhaps it is a personal standard (the individual feels that a shirt is cut too low, that someone should wear more/fewer skirts, or simply doesn’t like a particular pair of pants). But regardless, the choice – and impacts of that choice (positive, negative, neutral) – remain with the individual. The other person can choose to support the individual or not (whatever “support” looks like), they can share how the individual’s decision may impact them and the consequences of that impact (“You wearing a swimsuit to my work function will embarrass me and potentially put my job at risk – I love you but I need my job, so I can’t take you as my date if you dress like that”), but they cannot make the choice for them.
When someone says “Can I say something?” in a standard conversational setting, they are asking permission to express themselves, or perhaps express themselves freely. That is an issue of Consent. If you find yourself or your friends doing this, I would encourage you take this as an opportunity for empowerment. Every perspective is valuable and worthy of being heard. We may not always agree, but that itself is a beautiful thing – stepping out of echo chambers is a wonderful opportunity for personal growth and developing perspective and empathy. We need not ask for permission to tell our stories – telling our stories is our right and can be a huge gift to others. A rising tide lifts all boats – our stories, our experiences are the waters on which we all sail.
Consent – like love, marriage, friendship, parent, and all the other wonderful forms of connection we as humans have – is an active and conscious process. It isn’t a task, nor is it a conquest. It is an invitation to a beautiful and loving exploration of one’s own self, the other person/people, and the endeavor. In the sexual context, it can be an amazing process of exploration of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual knowledge and joy.
Whether the endeavor is sexual or non-sexual, when Consent is not present but the endeavor persists, it takes a toll. It isn’t just that the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual joy isn’t present – there is actual damage done. I can’t imagine that there is an adult in the world who hasn’t experienced this in some measure. Let’s say you are in a position, maybe a job, that you don’t want to be in but you feel trapped for some reason. This isn’t what you signed up for – this isn’t what they billed it as. Or maybe it is how they billed it, but you never thought it would feel like this. CRAP. You want out. But you feel trapped. You start to resist in a variety of ways – maybe you start leaving work early because screw them; or maybe you start having a few beers at lunch because that helps with the afternoon. Or maybe you just slow your paperwork down a little – they can wait on you for once… they don’t pay you enough for this anyway. But all the while you feel that knot… some part of you is getting crushed… being locked away… starting to die. Maybe you even say something, but it doesn’t go anywhere. It all feels so futile, and you have that mortgage. This isn’t at all what you signed up for — you didn’t Consent to this. What happens to your body? What happens to your mind? What happens to your soul?
Now imagine that you are in that spot all alone… no helpers. And on top of that, some people are actively pushing you further down. Let’s not do that to each other. Let’s reach out and lift each other up. Let’s recognize Consent for it is and what it can be – a connection to Authenticity. Let’s be kind and thoughtful in our approaches to Consent, in the little things and the big things… because they are all the big things. And for goodness sake, let’s stop saying that we are doing things “for the children,” because we are all the child of someone, and we all deserve Respect. Let’s just pursue worthy and uplifting and empowering endeavors for all of us, respecting all ages, races, genders, and every other category we can think of. Children absolutely deserve goodness, but so do people 18 years of age and older. So, you know, don’t discount your own feelings, needs, and experiences. And if you aren’t quite there yet, then value yourself “for their children’s sake” – it is modeling good behavior. 🙂
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes, attributed to St. Francis de Sales: “Be who you are, and be that well.” THIS is the active and conscious process of Consenting – to ourselves, to our lives, and to each other. Don’t settle for anything less.