This article was written with Helen Berger, Resident Scholar Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center author of A Community of Witches: Witches and Neo-Pagans in the contemporary United States (University of South Carolina Press)
When there is smoke there must be fire. My parents, aunts and uncles said it regularly warning me not be taken in. Not to be the person who buys the Brooklyn Bridge only to learn that the City of New York actually owns it. It is good to be wary and not take things at face value. But, that way of looking at the world enables bullies.
We read over and over that people are afraid to publicly critique Donald J. Trump. Why? Because he and his followers will attack you. But, I hear you then use another of those expressions we learned at the knees of our elders " if you have nothing to hide why would you mind people looking?" But, if anyone looked at is immediately suspect because "if there is smoke there must be fire," then they do have something to fear.
There are times that there is smoke and no fire. Stage magicians use smoke to hide what they are doing to fool us. We participate in this; suspending our disbelief for the joy of being fooled by them. But, there is no joy in enabling political bullies. They use accusations as a way of stopping their opponents. We learned only last week of Ted Cruz's now former campaign manager who regularly won elections by making up nasty tales about the opponent of those he worked for.
Yes, he got caught this time, but not all those that preceded . There are always bad people and some of them are in politics, but my concern is less them than us--we help to create the milieu in which they work. A milieu in which someone is presumed guilty and can never prove their innocence, because we all know " If there is smoke there must be fire."
This can happen to you too. An acquaintance of mine many years ago feared having his child take away from him. The authorities had gotten a complaint that he was abusing his daughter. He claimed that he didn't and I believe him. How you ask can you be sure? I believe him because I know he doesn't have a daughter, he has a son with a gender neutral name. He had a fight with a co-worker who knew only the child's name and guessed the wrong gender. After a thorough investigation he was exonerated. But, some of his neighbors still wondered about him, because" Where there is smoke there is fire." But, I would counter:" Where there is smoke, sometimes there is no fire. "
We had the only large scale witch trial in colonial America here in Massachusetts. It remains a stain on our history. I think it is time for all of us to think how we participate in the culture of bullying, how we help to perpetuate it by repeating but " If there is smoke there is fire. " Bullying, mistrust, use of investigations as witch hunts; we need to develop a new adage: where there is smoke there might be a bully trying to pull the wool over our eyes to get us to act in their, not our, interest. Not all smoke indicates fire. And believing that all smoke indicates fire may not save you from the con artists, but instead may result in your enabling them.