Simone Biles made headlines during the Tokyo Olympics when she stepped away from the competition for mental health reasons. While most responses I saw were understanding, encouraging, and even empowering, there were plenty of people that seemed to take personal offense to her decision.
How dare she.
She was called a quitter, selfish, even a sociopath. Christian commentator, Matt Walsh, called her an embarrassment and “in some ways an appropriate representation of a country that has gone soft.”
Several times as I’ve read news articles and comments on social media of people expressing their disappointment and chastising her, I’ve wanted to remind them that she doesn’t owe any of us anything. In fact, she didn’t even owe us an explanation for why she left the competition. Think about that. Why couldn’t she just say, “I’m out” and that be good enough?
I appreciate this tweet from Rachael Denhollander:
And for everyone saying “she didn’t say abuse was part of the mental health struggles so…”.
She doesn’t have to. It’s incredibly violating to relive your abuse on an international platform.
Survivors aren’t your daily dose of sensationalism, and they don’t owe you details.
— Rachael Denhollander (@R_Denhollander) July 27, 2021
If anything is a representation of who we are as a culture, it is this overwhelming expression that her reason isn’t good enough. Never mind the fact that it could actually kill her.
This whole saga has been very telling because it reveals just how exploitive our culture is.
We talk a lot about exploitation when it comes to pornography.
Merriam-Webster defines “exploit” as “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.” Pornography is considered sexual exploitation by many because of the way people in pornography are treated. Studies have shown that pornography tends to be violent. The actors and actresses in the industry often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the lifestyle they have, a lifestyle that drives some to suicide. For what? It’s not for their enjoyment. They aren’t enjoying it.
That’s the heart behind exploitation. I don’t care if you don’t like it. I don’t care if you don’t want to do it. You are going to do it, for me- for my pleasure, for my personal gain. Who cares what you want, oh, but I might pay you for your time.
Exploitation treats people like commodities. Pornography treats people like commodities.
As Christians, we should recognize that this is wrong. People are not disposable. But that attitude of exploitation can seep into so many areas of our lives. It’s not just in pornography.
We can exploit our family and friends. We can exploit accountability partners. We can exploit lovers. And the sad thing is, we may not even realize it. Because we’re clearly in a culture filled with it. For some of us, like the armchair Olympian disappointed in a complete stranger for no good reason, it could be second nature.
Here are three warning signs that you may be exploiting people.
You don’t respect them.
At first, I was going to say, “you don’t know them”, but then we all would be exploiting people. I don’t personally know any world-class chefs, but I definitely respect their work. Spending years as a manager in a fine dining restaurant makes me respect it more. I enjoy watching cooking shows in part because I know those people are enjoying what they do and I respect them for what they are able to do. It’s hard work.
The same goes for sports. I’m a sucker for the Tour de France. If I can watch it, I do. Do I know a single Tour de France rider? No. But I know they love what they do and I know what they are doing is hard and demands respect.
If you’re exploiting someone, that respect is gone. There is no respect for position or personhood. People are viewed as assets, a means to an end.
In our personal lives, this can be a little more discreet. This is the leader you learn from but then gossip about behind their back. Hitting closer to home, for some, this is how we treat our parents. We take, take, take, but then completely disrespect the position and the person.
You get upset when people don’t do what you want.
For me, a clear indicator of exploitation is that failure results in fury. When someone else lets you down, do you lash out? This is how we know we’re trying to control someone else.
I see this most often in unhealthy accountability relationships. Your accountability partner didn’t do x,y,z so you retaliate, get upset, and then burn the bridge. They were worthless anyway (there’s that respect piece).
In your eyes, that accountability partner had “one job” and they didn’t do it.
You don’t care what they need.
Last but certainly not least is a complete disregard for what they, as a person, need. The fact is you never really know what is going on in someone else’s world. As Christians, that should matter to us. People should matter, more than accolades, ribbons, and points.
But when we’re exploiting someone, that doesn’t matter. What matters is what we need. And more often than not, it’s not even what we need, it’s what we want. Meanwhile, their needs are seen as “excuses.”
We see these clear as day in abusive relationships. We definitely know it’s a problem in situations where someone is being trafficked, enslaved, or held in captivity. In fact, if this were an employer treating an employee this way, we would label it as toxic.
It seems obvious.
But, in our personal lives, it’s not always that obvious.
Let’s use a fictional accountability relationship to see how exploitation can play out:
Josie is an adult struggling porn addict. She would like to get help and has heard that accountability can be a good tool. So, Josie approaches Kim, a pastor’s wife in her church. Josie shares her struggle with Kim. Kim is understanding and asks how she can help. Josie asks Kim to help keep her accountable. Kim agrees. Things start off well. Kim checks in on Josie daily and is her partner on Covenant Eyes. Josie and Kim meet once a week over coffee, where Josie vents about that week’s struggle without letting Kim get a word in. Kim attempts to engage Josie in deeper, meaningful conversation to help point out different areas of growth, but Josie shuts her down. Josie just asked for accountability. Nothing else.
Kim begins to feel the stress and strain of their relationship. It isn’t working. When she tries to bring it up with Josie, Josie becomes defensive. When Kim decides to take a couple weeks to go on vacation with her family, Josie is offended. Even angry. When Kim tries to explain to Josie that she would like to take this time to focus on family and they can pick back up in two weeks when she gets back, Josie explodes. She tells Kim to never mind and that she’ll just find someone else. Kim was a lousy accountability partner anyway. Josie never speaks to Kim again.
Extreme? Not really. This is actually a painfully common scenario for many of the “Josie”s who email me disappointed in the failure of their accountability partners.
Let’s see how exploitation could play out in a marriage.
Three years after their marriage, Mark and Esther were finally ready to start a family. Without the addition of kids, they spent those first three years furthering their respective careers and having lots of sex. Unfortunately, pregnancy was not kind to Esther and she spent much of her first trimester sick, even making a couple of trips to the ER for fluids.
Esther, understandably, became less interested in sex. What used to be an everyday thing was becoming a once a week thing if Mark was “lucky.” Since she planned on staying at home once the baby was born, Esther asked to quit her job early. Mark agreed, assuming that the extra rest during the day would reap rewards for him in bed. When it didn’t, he became increasingly frustrated.
He began to ridicule Esther. He would nitpick about the house not being clean, or dinner not being ready, all things they had shared in the three years before. When Esther turned down his sexual advances because she was too tired or felt too ill, Mark became angry. “I don’t want to hear it, Es. I am sick and tired of all of the excuses. You’re just using this baby as an excuse for being lazy. You’re a horrible wife. You’re supposed to love me.” When Esther tried to share how pregnancy was making her feel, Mark accused her of complaining. When Esther asked Mark for help, he called her nagging.
Mark began ignoring Esther and seemed indifferent to the arrival of their upcoming baby. When the baby was finally born, Mark would often make plans to go out with the guys where he would complain about his lazy, good-for-nothing wife and how he wishes he had married someone else.
Do you see it? Do you see those three warning signs in both of these relationships?
Consequently, each scenario of exploitation ultimately leads to the conclusion that the other person is disposable.
Do you see these signs in your own life?
It doesn’t have to be with an accountability partner or in a marriage. Any relationship is vulnerable to exploitation.
What’s the answer for exploitation?
If exploitation says “you are here to meet my needs and I don’t care what you need” then compassion says, “I am here to help, please tell me what you need.”
Compassion is the way of the Cross. Compassion is meant to be the hallmark of the Christian life. Compassion says, “you are not disposable. You have value.”
This is ultimately the message of the Gospel, the message of Grace, and the message we are called to carry into all of our relationships.
What does this look like?
Instead of disrespect, there is honor. Instead of frustration, there is understanding. Instead of apathy, there is concern.
It means when they walk off an international stage citing personal reasons, you pray instead of pry. It means when your accountability partner needs a break, you give it. It means when your wife needs to snuggle before she takes off her clothes, you snuggle.
The antidote for exploitation is valuing others, not for what they bring us, but for the value God has already given them.