Progressing Consent Culture The Humanist

Humanists “strive toward a world of mutual care and concern,” states the Humanist Manifesto III. We are “committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.” To help us learn and practice the skills needed to live up to these aspirations, the American Humanist Association is facilitating an engaging online discussion on “Progressing Consent Culture” on Thursday, February 15,  at 7pm ET. Join us in exploring how we all can support a more consensual and empathetic culture.

Consent is about giving permission or approval and respecting boundaries. It’s about communicating what interactions are wanted and unwanted, understanding our own and others’ limitations or discomforts, and recognizing that each person has the right to make their own decisions about how they’d like to be treated. People may have different needs and preferences than we do, so it’s important to not make assumptions or pressure them to change for us. The principles of consent are often outlined with the acronym FRIES:

Freely given (chosen without manipulation)
Reversible (changeable or revokable)
Informed (clear and understood)
Enthusiastic (enjoyable and certain)
Specific (explicit and defined)

I’ve previously written about how consent education is a vital part of comprehensive sexual education, which must replace abstinence-only programs based on shame. Because consent includes all types of interactions—not only sexual—and impacts all ages, we need to normalize talking about and ensuring consent in our daily lives. We can model consent with children by not pressuring them to give hugs and kisses, asking if they’d like their picture taken or to be in a video, and appreciating them for respecting when someone tells them, “No.” We can respect colleagues and friends who set boundaries on their time, have different life priorities from us, and express discomfort with content about them being shared with others or online. We may provide our consent to exercise instructors offering physical adjustments, doctors recommending treatments, businesses interested in contacting us, and in many other one-off and ongoing relationships. Consent is essential to society and requires awareness and practice.

When consent is not given or it’s abused, we must recognize and own the harm caused, assist with healing, and commit to improving. Unwanted touch, inappropriate jokes, unapproved recordings, and other violations of trust need to be addressed and not repeated. Apologies need to be genuine or they are useless and hinder future connections. Comedian Larry David showed us exactly what not to do on February 1 when he physically attacked Elmo on the Today show, apologized in between laughing fits (due to the hosts’ insistence), and then on The Late Show with Seth Meyers admitted that he wasn’t sorry and would do it again. Let’s not ignore his actions because he’s an actor known for being a crank and Elmo is a puppet. David interrupted the program, invaded the space of the puppeteers and hosts, acted like it’s okay to grab and shake someone when you’re annoyed, disregarded the discomfort of those around him and how it could be triggering to those watching, and didn’t care to make amends. This lack of care and concern for others opposes the compassionate world humanists work towards.

Can you think of more examples of opportunities to provide consent and communicate boundaries so they’re heard and respected? Have you experienced other incidences where someone’s well-being was harmed and the offender did a good or bad job of addressing it? Would you like to share and learn about resources on how we can make consent more prevalent in our personal, professional, and community lives? Join the AHA’s discussion on “Progressing Consent Culture” on Thursday, February 15, at 7pm ET and let’s keep the consent conversations going after.

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Join us for an engaging online discussion on Thursday, Feb 15.
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