Faction Harms Refuge Recovery's Reputation In Tricycle Article: “No One (In RR) Understands How To Behave Properly”, Claim Portland Sangha.

In a January 28th Tricycle magazine article, Jean Tuller, Executive Director of the Refuge Recovery non-profit, continued to promote the idea that there is a sexual harassment problem in the buddhist recovery fellowship. This was followed by Tuller using the international forum to endorse a RR Fellowship buy-in to the radical premise of campus “safetyism” as the solution.

The article cited the same single example used at the 2018 Refuge Recovery Conference, an anecdote from one young woman who attended her first RR meeting last year in Los Angeles and who was then spoken to by three different men on the sidewalk outside the meeting. It should be noted that when the panel leader put the question to the audience of RR meeting leaders at the 2018 RR Conference, “can anyone else, (other than Stephanie Podasca) offer examples of (alleged) sexual harassment occurring within RR?”, there were no further examples offered.

No statistical evidence exists at this time that there is any level of sexual harassment inside Refuge Recovery.

For the last year, and beginning in tandem with the Executive Committee’s push to remove Noah Levine from the RR Board, the Executive Director, and the entire RR Board, have promoted “safetyism” for the fellowship as whole.

Why would the leaders of the RR non-profit board seek to create the perception of a sexual harassment problem within the buddhist recovery program? A perception of a sexual harassment problem and the proposed solution of “safetyism” can work hand in hand to chill or silence debate on Refuge Recovery Board actions. Who will speak up and risk being labeled ?

“Safetyism” has already been adopted by the RR Board as it’s official policy and has been used to remove at least one member of the Board for speech “violations”. This is not limited to actions related to Noah Levine, but extends to all areas of speech within RR Board discussions, regional rep discussions and Facebook pages. The notion that speech is harmful to the community is the justification currently being used by RR Facebook page moderators to limit debate over the creation of legitimate democratic structures within RR.

In addition, we have seen on campuses nationwide how the “problem” creates the need for administrators. A pandering to, and manipulation of, the generation described in “The Coddling of the American Mind”, could serve to build legitimacy among this same group for the current board members governance.

Would the leaders of the RR Board cynically promote hysteria among newcomers to recovery? Then turn around and gain the same newcomers support by offering “safetyism” as solution?

The phenomena, all the rage in Portland, is described by Jonathon Haidt, the moral psychologist who has done the best writing on “safetyism”, in this way…

“I think that there is a new moral order that emerged on some college campuses between 2013 and 2017. We call it a culture of safetyism. It has not yet spread to all of America’s 4,500 institutions of higher education, but it is spreading, and we don’t know how far or how fast. I first saw it in 2013/2014. Now a lot of the same language — the language of safety — is spreading into areas of the corporate world that hire from elite schools. The major new terms of safetyism: The big four are: “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” “microaggressions,” and “bias response teams.” There are a bunch of others. But those are the four “innovations” that are based on the idea that students are fragile, words can be violence, and students need more protection from harmful words”.

Haidt goes on further to describe “the three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

  3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:

  1. It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).

  2. It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.

  3. It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.”

The radical concepts described by Haidt’s Three Untruths and the three criteria above are, in the opinion of many RR members we have spoken to over the last three years, harmful “to RR as a whole”…;

“Safetyism” is antithetical to recovery and to the healing of trauma. Healing from both addiction and trauma have long been linked to exposure to, and the ability to sit with, trauma and craving. These are the teachings of the Buddha as well as the basis for the Refuge Recovery program.

“Safetyism” is incredibly divisive to RR sangha’s. Placing the definition of harmful speech and actions in the hands of those who have been taught the faulty premise’s of “safeytism” will guarantee a limit on the fellowships growth and stability. Ensuring conflict at all levels of the fellowship and damaging RR’s ability to organize.

Importing campus “Safetyism”, has been deemed unnecessary at other established recovery fellowships. Alcoholics Anonymous and all the largest recovery fellowships, have simple policies in place that offer the ability to maintain order in meetings based on members actions. Avoiding the monitoring of members speech and attitudes for evidence of “sexism, racism, and classism”, as obviously corrosive to group unity.

Now in an “only in Portland” scenario, the Executive Director and the young, attractive, newcomer are working to, create a culture of “safety of language and have it be preventative”. Orwellian? Church Lady? Some combination of both? They vow to “define responses to unwelcome hugs or hand holding…”, and in the kicker claim that without ethical bylaws “no one (in RR) understands how to behave properly”.

Here’s the relevant section from Tricycle:

 “A ten-member working group was assembled (by the Portland RR Sangha), and Portland Intersangha Chair Stephanie Podasca said they have been working to define cultural terms and behaviors, outline consent, and have bylaws in place for what happens when ethical violations occur in the future. Tuller is clear that the police must be called if an assault is reported, and Podasca said the group’s policy will define responses to more ambiguous behavior, such as unwelcome hugs or hand-holding.

“We’re in recovery because in the past we’ve had an issue with boundaries, with impulse control, maybe sketchy judgment, and our perceptions and relationships to other people have been skewed,” Podasca said. “Our goal is to create a culture of safety, of language, and have it be a preventative measure. If nothing is there, no one understands how to behave properly.” 

Members of the safety committee, which has expanded to address issues related to sexism, racism, and classism, identify themselves at the beginning of meetings and let attendees know they can come to them with any concerns. A day-long retreat held in Portland in November 2018 was devoted to a working draft of Refuge Recovery’s sexual misconduct policies. Once finalized, the recommendations will be made available to groups across the country as a model”.

We ask, what could possibly go wrong?


—The American Buddhist