Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Tami Simon, Marc Gafni, et al. - Part I - Long Version

On Tami Simon, Marc Gafni, et al.

I've been pondering how to respond to this for a very long time. I've probably written this blog entry five times and trashed it. I've decided to take another go at it. I think I owe it to the small number of people in my community who might find themselves reading this blog in the future to be honest and clear about my take on these events. This is a subtle and difficult subject. You might disagree with me. I don't think you're a bad person if you do. I don't even necessarily think you're incorrect or misguided if you do. The answers here aren't clear. Its hard to know the good and the true. The beautiful in this case, I'm not so concerned with. It might be the easier perspective to take - because regardless of where you stand I think most would agree that this was ugly.

I'm going to take this in four chunks, not intentionally aligned to any quadrants. What I think happened; My opinion on the ethics of what I understand Marc did; My opinion on the ethics of how some of us have reacted to it; and finally: Some thoughts on our community and its capacity to deal with events of this kind.

I want to state at the outset that I'm skeptical of Marc Gafni. I tend to think that some of the many allegations against him are true in some way and that he hasn't dealt with them adequately. But I can't prove that or make a convincing argument for it so it would be unfair to Marc to insist that my suspicion is actually the truth. I've made unfair and mean comments about Marc on my FB page and I've apologized directly to Marc in a public conversation for that. I sincerely mean my apology. My comments were unfair and thoughtless. Even if my suspicions about Marc should turn out to be true, the comments were still mean. I say all this up front so any reader can know that I'm not a supporter of Marc's, I'm a skeptic and a critic, but I'm trying to be fair to him because we all deserve that. Its possible that I'm wrong. I want to be able to live with myself if it turns out that I am.

What I think happened.
By reading the various blogs and public statements by Tami Simon, Marc Gafni, Ken Wilber, Joe Perez, William Harryman, and various FaceBook discussion threads - this is, as near as I can tell, the facts of the matter. I may have something wrong or have left out something important - please feel free to point it out to me. I apologize for the rehash - feel free to skip over this if you feel like you know the facts and have pondered them ad nauseum.

Marc had some kind of partnership with Mariana Caplan who became pregnant and gave birth to a child.
Marc began relationships with two women, one named Marcy who is or was on the Board of CWS and is also a spiritual student of Marc's in some sense, and another women whose name I do not know - I'll call her Tami's friend. Marc agreed with both of those women to keep their relationships secret. Both women knew they were not Marc's only relationship. At some point in the past six to twelve months, Marc began publishing essays in a few places on the internet saying that romantic and sexual relationships between spiritual teachers and their students were allowable and maybe even productive. I don't recall if Marc wrote that he was planning on engaging in them or not.

Tami's friend became troubled in some way by her secret relationship with Marc and spoke to Tami Simon about it. The knowledge of these relationships damaged Tami's trust of Marc and she chose not to publish Marc's pending book. Somehow word of this occurence spread - obviously through rumor and hearsay. William Harryman researched the rumor with plans to publish a blog post on it with whatever facts he could assemble. He asked Tami Simon for a comment on it and she chose to give him a statement for publication. At some point, Integral Life, Integral Institute, and CWS indicated they were reviewing their relationship with Marc Gafni and the allegations about his recent relationships. William Harryman published Tami Simon's letter on his blog as well as his understanding of the events and his opinions on their ethical implications.

There were many reactions. Joe Perez weighed in. Various personalities in the integral community weighed in on their blogs or on Facebook - some reluctantly. CWS and Ken Wilber both indicated they would delay judgement until more was known and passions died down. Many individuals on Facebook and in their blogs criticized Marc. Many defended him. Some condemned him. Some exonerated him.

Marcy of CWS publicly defended her relationship with Marc, stating something to the effect that it had been an unequivocally positive experience that she had entered into freely. Tami's friend, to my knowledge, has not made her identity known nor made any kind of public statement.

Over time, passions did die down. Everyone said their piece. Eventually CWS and Ken Wilber independently announced that they felt that Marc Gafni was without fault in these events and they would continue to work with him in all capacities. I believe that Integral Life, Integral Institute, and Integral Spiritual Experience may have chosen to distance themselves from Marc. I do not know if they continue in that posture. Integrales Forum in Germany published a statement indicating they would not work with Marc in the capacity of spiritual teacher but that they did not condemn or disavow his work, his writing, or his ideas.

My opinion on the ethics of what I understand Marc did and did not do.

Bottom line, I don't think that Marc did anything obviously wrong here. My inclination was to immediately condemn his actions - but as more of the facts have come out I have to admit that there's nothing to see here. There is no widely agreed upon ethical standard for polyamorous relationships and there's also no widely agreed upon standard for the ethical behavior of post-traditional spiritual teachers. Marc has been public about his beliefs on these matters and he's acting in accordance with those beliefs. I don't know of any testimony or evidence that Marc was abusive in any of these relationships or that he was acting in bad faith with regard to any of his relationships. What we have is a woman, Tami's friend, who was uncomfortable or even deeply troubled by her secret, though apparently fully consensual, relationship with Marc - and that knowledge of her emotional discomfort undermined Tami Simon's provisional support for Marc Gafni - provisional in light of earlier allegations against him having nothing directly to do with these events.

Based on all of this, I really can't make a strong condemnation of Marc's behavior in good conscience. These were all consenting adults and the woman who seems hurt by her relationship with Marc is not one of his students, that I can tell. At worst, what Marc has done is to make a bad choice for a relationship partner - someone who really wasn't up to the complexity of the kind of relationship Marc offered.

At the same time, I really can't fault Tami's behavior. Sounds True is her business. She can publish or not publish whoever she wants to. If Marc's behavior undermined her trust in him, then that is just what it did. Whether Marc was guilty of any ethical violation or not, Tami was no longer comfortable working with him. I'll say more about this later.

Marcy has spoken in public about their relationship and she seems unharmed and content. When I consider all of her various relationships to Marc - student, investor, supervisor, lover, friend - on the one hand I think there are so many duelling obligations already existing that complicating them by the introduction of a sexual relationship was more than a little crazy. On the other hand, its clear that their various roles served to balance the power in their relationship so that I think there's a good argument that the power concern just isn't a part of it. If a dual relationship were going to work well - it would be a relationship like that. In short - I think that Marc chose a good partner for such a relationship in Marcy.

Still, I want to weigh in more generally on this ethical problem. My personal opinion is that, if spiritual teaching possesses the power that I think it should, then romantic and sexual relationships with students have to be handled with great care. It should be incumbent upon the spiritual teacher to establish that sufficient care has been taken to justify a specific exception to this. Obviously some spiritual teachers directly use sex as a modality in spiritual teaching - but even in this case a romantic relationship with a student should still be treated with the same care, maybe even more so given the confusion of the already existing sexual relationship. I don't see that spiritual teaching can be exempted from the concerns that we apply to psychotherapy and other kinds of ministry. In my opinion, if it comes to light that a spiritual teacher is having a dual relationship with a student, that teacher should be able to clearly justify to their community why the relationship is not harmful to the student or to their spiritual seeking - and justifying, to me, is not simply stating that sometimes its ok. Why is it specifically ok in this case? What are the principles for determining whether its ok or not? How will you know if you're mistaken? What steps will you take if you are? That is the kind of care that dual relationships deserve. I'll write more about the complexities here another time. Clearly enforcement of this kind of ethical standard can become draconian and ridiculous. That's not at all what I'm talking about here.

So, in that sense, I think concern about Marc's relationship with his student is justified and that its up to Marc to explain why this specific relationship is not harmful. I don't think Marc's writings do this - I think they just give a general justification for why dual relationships are not always and unequivocally wrong. I'm not sure I agree with his argument, but even if I did, it would not specifically address this.

But that's just my opinion. Marc hasn't signed up to any ethical standard that says he's obligated to do this. I think he should be expected to, but we don't seem to have a strong consensus in our community on this. So while I think Marc's relationship choices are ethically suspect and unwise - I don't think I have grounds to condemn him for making them - especially given Marcy's apparent unconcern. There's been no harm here that I can see. I might suspect that things might not turn out well later - but that's just a suspicion.

As for Tami's friend, all we can really say is that it turned out to be a poor relationship choice for her. That's all we really know. Maybe there is more that we don't know. But maybe there isn't. That's all anyone can go off of.

Its hard for me to admit this. I don't approve of Marc's choices. But his obligations here are very poorly defined. I don't think he's being smart. I don't think his practices are wise. I still have many concerns about past allegations against him. I wouldn't recommend him as a spiritual teacher to work with directly. I probably wouldn't even recommend his writing or lectures (though not for any reason directly related to ethics). But condemn him because of these recent events? Claim that his actions here are deeply heinous and despicable? I just can't do it in any kind of good conscience. Part of me wants to - but it would be unjust to do so.

I wish him and his students and associates peace. I applaud his relatively recent honesty and transparency about his intentions and his behavior. I hope he becomes more transparent and more honest. I hope his behavior and choices no longer invite drama into the integral community (as for my hopes about the rest of us in the integral community - I'll get to that later).

In my next post, I'll talk about the ethics of our reaction in the community. Later I'd like to talk about some structural questions about our community and how it enables or limits our ability to deal with events and questions of this kind.

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