An ethical challenge that all of us face now and then involves being present in a gathering when a host, a friend, a colleague or someone else makes an objectively bigoted or outrageously unfair and disrespectful statement about a group that is not represented and thus unable to defend itself. At such times we all have a duty to confront and correct the speaker and condemn the sentiment, but the execution is difficult, and requires tact, knowledge, clarity and courage. Doing and saying nothing, however, gives the speaker and his slander support and tacit endorsement.
Fortunately, thanks to the magic of on-line video and George Clooney, we now have a lovely “How To” clip that demonstrates the right way to discharge one’s ethical duty in these awkward situations.
In his recent appearance on Bill Maher’s HBO show, Clooney was discussing his humanitarian efforts on behalf of the people of Sudan when Maher took the opportunity to contrast Clooney’s social consciousness with the heartless selfishness of all conservatives, who according to Maher’s sweeping and condescending statement, weren’t really “bad people,” but just incapable of empathy toward people who “aren’t like them”—-in other words, racists and bigots. As usual, Maher’s studio claque burst into furious applause. It would have been understandable if Clooney, a reliable Hollywood liberal being fawned over on his host’s home turf, allowed Maher’s own bigotry to pass. He did not however. With grace, calm, eloquence and a smile, he immediately explained, using specific facts Maher could not deny, why his contempt was not only unfair but untrue. He did not overtly insult the supercilious comic, nor did he appear confrontational in any way, and yet the message could not have been clearer: Maher was either ignorant or dishonest, he was perpetrating a venomous stereotype, and his statement denigrated people who did not deserve to be denigrated.
Perfect. One cannot do it any better, and Clooney did it on TV, in a partisan environment, for all to see. He didn’t have to make Bill Maher look like the mean-spirited ass he is on his own show, but it was the right thing to do. Now we have a model and an inspiration for the next time Uncle Phil makes a nasty crack about gays, or your brother mouths some calumny about Jews, or your boss explains, over drinks, why women make lousy managers.
I’m going to watch it several times in the days before Thanksgiving. It is likely to come in handy.