Are Americans Ready for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help the country heal from the wounds of apartheid. Rwanda had a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission to help reconstruct Rwandan society and identity following a brutal chapter in its history. If we look even closer to home, Canada established a truth and reconciliation commission to address what occurred involving the Indian Residential School system. This was established to guide a process of truth and healing, leading toward reconciliation within Aboriginal families, and between Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal communities, churches, governments, and Canadians more generally. Today, in the United States there have been calls for some form of a reconciliation process over issues such as slavery, racial justice and more recently the attack on the capitol which took place on January 6th, 2021. Are Americans ready to face the truth of the past? Are people ready to embrace such a process?

Truth commissions are not new and all that have formed are unique to the situation they have been established to address. Initially, there needs to be a consensus that a truth commission is required and then a consensus on what the issues are that need to be addressed. This initial requirement is often where the best laid plans fall apart. The problem in the United States is that there is no consensus, even for the need of a truth commission, let alone what the issues are that need to be addressed. We do not know what reconciliation would look like in a country facing so many challenges, especially since the country is so polarized.

Healing is necessary in this country. It couldn’t be more apparent after what we witnessed on January 6th, 2021. Recent years have seen growing polarization across the United States, people seeing those with different viewpoints as “the other” and lesser than those with whom they agree. Even if people have a desire to come back together, how do we begin the conversation about what really divides us? It is complicated. There has been so much fear and distrust on both sides of the divide. Each party is afraid that the other will gain more power and sees the other side as an existential threat coming. This is not a healthy democracy. We need to lessen this fear and get to the truth, everyone’s truth, and understand what really happened on January 6th, 2021, and why it happened.

Danielle Allen wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post on January 21st, 2021, and spoke about “The four kinds of truth America needs to pursue for reconciliation”. Allen, who is a candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, outlined the different stages of a reconciliation process in the US. It begins with forensic truth, getting the facts and holding people accountable for their actions. This is what takes place in the courts and involves eyewitness accounts of what has happened while developing an historical record of what took place. To move forward we must first determine the full facts of what happened and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

Next comes the personal ‘truths’ where people share their stories, their personal truth. The United States began this process when the Capitol Police officers were testifying in front of Congress, explaining what they encountered and were subjected to. The officers outlined the cruelty and brutality of the day, the violence they experienced and the abuse they endured.  It is important we all carefully listen to these stories without judgment or prejudice if we want to ever make sense of what happened that day. We must bring these personal truths to the table to truly understand. The personal truths that were on display on January 6th demonstrated how far apart people’s beliefs really were. People on the left saw Confederate flags and a white supremacist insurrection. People on the right saw participants as embodying the spirit of 1776 in a morally legitimate uprising. (Danielle Allen, The Washington Post, January 21, 2021.) These chants of 1776 go back to the tea party movement in 2009.

There clearly has been discontent within the United States, within communities, and even within families. Yes, there have been extremists in charge and conspiracy theorists have been given license to perpetuate their mistruths in the mainstream but there has also been some ‘truth’ which has affected conservative ways of life. We must understand the different societal world views, why they developed the way they did, the validity of these world views and the needs that are represented by these world views. Why else do so many people feel that they have lost control over their lives? The point is that understanding where people are coming from gives us an opening to pursue a shared social truth. We need to listen and understand to begin to discuss and move forward. We need to understand what caused people to align with certain worldviews. We need to hear different perspectives which are seeded by these ‘truths’. It helps us begin to sort through all the noise so a social truth can be constructed which can empower people and embrace our diversity.

Allen, in her opinion piece, also spoke of restorative truth. What kind of policies and institutions do we want to have in place that support who we want to be as a people? Some in our communities have felt disenfranchised. We need to have economic policies which reflect the needs of every American, to empower them, and this includes having the ability to access good jobs and work flexibility which can restore dignity to one’s life.

What Allen touches on, and what my work focuses on is a political forgiveness process. This is a process which involves people coming together in safe places, telling their stories knowing that people are really listening. It is about reweaving the fabric of our society in such a way that brings a community back together, where everyone is empowered and embraced. The process restores dignity by seeking structural changes to take place in policies and institutions that can allow society to move forward, as one people and one community.

This is not an easy process. It is time consuming, requires real commitment and leadership and an honest desire to move forward. If we want to do the deep healing which is necessary to set the stage for a reconciliation process to take hold then this is the task at hand. We must approach it with an open mind and a genuine will to make things better. The bottom line is that it is important all Americans need to feel empowered and included in our multicultural society. Yes, this is difficult but we can do it. We need to have a strong desire and will but if we truly want to have a great country this is the path we need to take. This is the path towards healing and reconciliation. This is the path to repair the divide, to bring communities and families back together. We must act now as we have no time to waste.

We Are All Equal

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”

Rodney King

 

“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” These were the last words of 46-year-old George Floyd. This heinous act occurred in front of witnesses and cameras. George Floyd’s death, and the death of so many other black Americans has sparked a powerful civil rights movement against racism, police brutality and unacceptable discrimination with the powerful message that Black Lives Matter.

The death of George Floyd has brought to the surface, yet again, hundreds of years of systemic racism in the United States. All the accompanying pain, suffering, injustice, and anger that is part and parcel of the experiences of black Americans growing up in the US has come to a head. In addressing the nation following the verdict, President Joe Biden said, “nothing can ever bring their brother or their father back. But this can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America. But this is not enough. We cannot stop here. To deliver real change and reform we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this won’t ever happen or occur again.” Biden called systemic racism “a stain on our nation’s soul” and that there has been a collective realization about the reality of systemic racism that has occurred since George Floyd’s death.

So, what can we do to help this country heal? Following George Floyd’s death, structural changes across society have been proposed and these begin with police reform. Vice President Kamala Harris voiced her views that lawmakers must now take up legislation that will fundamentally reform policing in America. There is a collective recognition, broadly across the aisle, that much more needs to be done in this regard. Rep. Karen Bass (D-California), a longtime policing reform advocate, introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which passed the House by a 236-181 vote. Included in the bill is a ban on chokeholds, the ending of “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers and the creation of national standards for police training. Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), the sole black Republican Senator, put forward a counter proposal which included provisions for making falsified police reports a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. While these bills are a start in holding people, both the police and wider public, accountable for their actions, there is a need for far greater urgency, not just in tackling police reform but tackling the wider systemic racism which exists in the United States today.

Tackling the problem of systemic racism through structural reform is one element of the process but ensuring a real change in society will require a focus on education. In order to end this stain on our democracy we must teach that it is wrong, teach that we are all equal and teach the dangers of dehumanization. When I speak about education, yes I am speaking about our children starting from preschool but I am also speaking about all of us. Education is key. For this to work, to actually root out systemic racism, we all have a role to play and we all need to be educated on how we can play that role. We need to start now. We need to teach forgiveness, we need to teach healing and we need to teach reconciliation. There needs to be broad understanding of values such as respect for human rights and principles of equality, responsibility, and unity. When we can build a platform of knowledge for all citizens, we are building a more peaceful society.

How does this fit into a political forgiveness process? When we think of political forgiveness as an interactive process that involves the healing of individuals, the reconstruction of communal relationships, and the pursuit of a just political order it becomes obvious how important education and structural reform is in the healing of individuals and society. Police reform and child education are an important part of this process but it is not the only aspect that needs to be included in a political forgiveness process. All structures that support systemic racism need to be reformed, including unjust laws. Much work needs to be done. It will take all of us coming together and committing to one another if we want to create a better, stronger and more equal society where we can live in peace with one another. It can be done. The question is do we want a brighter future for everyone?

 

 

The Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Movement: A Political Forgiveness Process in Action

There is a movement afoot. It is called the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation movement where like-minded people have come together from all walks of life to address the historical and contemporary effects of racism. Not only is this movement concerned with the effects of racism found in social, economic and government policies, it is also concerned with the deeply held and often unconscious beliefs created by racism and in particular the belief of a “hierarchy of human value.” It is this belief which has fueled racism and conscious and unconscious bias throughout American culture. Therefor the purpose of this movement is to engage people, and to encourage discourse in this country that will bring people together as opposed to allowing the continuation of segregation and racism that tears us apart.

The TRHT framework was first developed in 2016 under the guidance of Dr. Gail Christopher at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 176 community and civic leaders, scholars and practitioners informed a year-long design process. An important part of the framework was to challenge the belief in a hierarchy of human value based on race by developing transformative approaches to community-based healing. It has been implemented in a wide variety of communities, including on university campuses.

To support this movement Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey recently announced the reintroduction of their legislation calling for the establishment of the first United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT). The commission will examine the effects of slavery, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color, and how our history impacts laws and policies today. As Senator Booker said, “to realize our nation’s promise of being a place for liberty and justice for all, we must acknowledge and address the systemic racism and white supremacy that have been with us since our country’s founding and continue to persist in our laws, our policies and our lives to this day.” This legislation goes hand in hand with what the goals of the movement are and as Booker also commented, “this is the necessary first step in beginning to root our systemic racism in our institutions and for addressing and repairing past harm and building a more just nation for every American.”

The Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation movement is a wonderful example of a political forgiveness process which focuses on all levels of society. It begins with people coming together in a healing capacity and engaging in conversation within a given community. People share their stories and lay bare the awful truths of what has happened in their lives breaking the denial which has held a strong grip on our society. These stories help us get in touch with our humanity and help as get to know each other as truly human beings. When we can peel away the layers of fear, guilt and anger which is part of a forgiveness process we can get in touch with our humanity and begin to relate to each other differently and in a more compassionate way. We also need to learn how to walk in the shoes of the other. By dealing with what has happened, walking in someone else’s shoes, and by healing our own emotions which blocks us from feeling someone else’s pain we can change the narrative and how we behave. It is about our humanity, to see ourselves in one another, to genuinely care for one another to have empathy that goes beyond who we identify with. That is the work which needs to be done. And if we can help heal the suffering and hurt of ourselves as well as others, we are on the road to heal society and to build a stronger foundation for a more inclusive and just society.

For more information on political forgiveness please visit www.drborris.com.

 

The Poisoning of America’s Soul

Today is MLK day, to honor not only a man who was a great civil rights leader, but also a very spiritual man who had a great soul. His speeches and writings demonstrated a depth of thinking reflecting his beautiful heart for humanity. He understood the destructiveness of violence which not only destroys the social progress in America but also destroys the nations soul as well.

Reverend King often warned about the importance of caring for the worlds oppressed rather than taking sides with the oppressor and so I want to leave you with the words of King himself who speaks of the importance of re-directing ourselves to creating a better world no matter what it demands of us along the way.

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. We still have a choice today, nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world a world that borders on our doors.

“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”

For those of you who are interested in learning about forgiveness on a political level please go to my website www.drborris.com. You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter whose focus is on political forgiveness.

 

Father Cries for Help and Gets a Life changing Surprise

There is a lot one can say about social media and for all the negatives there is also a lot of good. The other day my husband was surfing YouTube when he came across a story of a 24-year-old Tibetan who walks the streets of Majnu Ka Tila, a poor Tibetan Community in Delhi and finds people who are in desperate need of help. We both began to watch what this young man Tenzin Kunchok (also known as Ted) was doing, and before I knew it my husband was talking to Ted on what’s app! Being touched by this Tibetans compassion we found out that he wanted to help a man by the name of Karan. Karan used to do photography but due to the pandemic and rise of the smartphone industry he lost his job. He is the only breadwinner of his family of six and was living in abject poverty. He tried working in manual labor but would not always get work. The most he could earn was about 200 rupees ($2.70) a day. Because of that he was not able to buy food and the necessities for his family to survive. His four children are home because of the lockdown but once school reopens, he needs to pay school fees which he doesn’t have. If the children cannot go to school, they will never be able to get out of poverty. Because of the hard time his family was going through Karan felt there was no where to turn and feared for his family.

When Ted heard about the plight of this family, he wanted to do something about it. He went home and reached out to us. I offered my help to get this family get back on their feet. The next day Ted went back to Karan and told him he need not worry any more. The dream of making a livelihood by opening a pani-puri stall for Karan and a small shop of snacks, drinks and tobacco outside their home for his wife so she could earn some money was now becoming a reality. And his children will also be able go back to school.

Even when there is so much suffering going on in this world there are also people who care such as Ted who saw the need to help Karan. This inspiring and emotional story of one person reaching out to others who in turn could help can be found on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UMf-ZAHpW0. It is a story of what an act of kindness and compassion can do and change someone’s life forever.

What Kind of Americans Do We Want to Be?

All of us are facing difficult situations and crises which involves free choice, wise thinking and important decision making, based on our values and the kind of America we can be proud of and feel good about. Yet our country more than ever is extremely polarized. Decisions that seem to be made feel as though we are more obsessed with material wealth than we care about one another. We seem to be caught up in hate speech which continues to polarize this nation and we appear to live blindly, not thinking about the effects of our actions on others. Are we going to live so caught up in ourselves that we do not make room for self-reflection?

We are becoming a new country. Will this country be based on materialistic wealth and the power of privilege or will it be based on our understanding of our interconnectiveness? Our greatest times as a country is when we showed concern for others such as after the second world war when we cared about the well-being of others. We created the Marshal plan to aid the recovery of West Germany and Japan. We experienced wealth and abundance during that time. We welcomed immigrants which led to a stronger economy and stronger cultural diversity. These were positive actions taken upholding certain values which included generosity, compassion and inclusiveness. We were the way shower for the rest of the world – a beacon of light for humanity.

There has been a shift in recent years which has led us to where we are today. We have become more aggressive, polarized and have unfair economic policies creating a wider gap between the have’s and have nots. Covid 19 is showing us in no uncertain terms the inequities in our society. We have seen how this pandemic has accentuated the sharp divisions between those who care for others first and those who think it is ok to lose Americans in the name of economic well-being. What may not be so clear is that if we keep losing Americans there will be no economic well-being.

We have choices to make. Who do we really want to be and what are we willing to do to get there? We are at a crossroads. It is up to us as to what direction we want to take and how we chose to relate to the rest of the world. What this pandemic is doing is making us stop, stop the feverish pace we are so used to, stop to hear the suffering of others, stop to recognize that if we want to be healthy, we have an obligation to each other. We are being forced to stop, hopefully to sit in silence and to listen and to really understand what is most important in this world.

Can We Truly Become Great Again?

I read an article the other day on “The coronavirus is an opportunity for people with privilege, and American society as a whole, to broaden their empathy for others.” The article spoke of the threat of death from an unseen virus which affects all of us regardless of class or race, and of the deep interconnectedness which unites us by globally crossing all color, economic and national lines. There are many lessons we are learning because of the circumstances we are finding ourselves in. If we do not take the necessary precautions and find a way to eliminate the virus we could die. We are also seeing that if we stop abusing our planet our water and skies become blue again as earth’s ecology becomes healthier.

 

But what about other aspects of our world we live in, the social aspects where we are seeing such injustice and inequality especially to those less fortunate, those more vulnerable, to people of color. This pandemic is shining a light on the unfairness that exists within our society. We see it in the numbers in which the pandemic disproportionately is affecting African Americans. We see it in society’s lack of concern on the toll of the elderly especially in nursing homes. What kind of collusion course are we on if we do not look at the divisions and if we do not correct the increasingly polarized, increasingly violent course we are on? How much longer can we go on ignoring how we are exploiting people within our own society, and how racism is running rampant because of the inherent superiority that feeds into racism, and the “right” to ignore laws at the expense of others. What kind of world are we creating within our own county whose foundation and glory was based in caring for others? This pandemic is showing us how far off from this ideal we have become.

 

The pandemic starkly reminds us that we are all in this together, that  we need not  just a medical vaccine but a vaccine against a larger and more insidious pandemic of racism and global injustice where 1% own and exploit more assets than everyone else combined. What is desperately needed is deep soul searching and a recognition of the complicity we all play in perpetuating an unjust society. Understanding and healing can come if we can develop within ourselves compassion and empathy. It is deep empathy that will ultimately lead us to making different choices and to the necessary breakthroughs that can serve humanity in a healing capacity. It is the lack of empathy that will keep us in the darkness that we find ourselves in today. Can we rise to the occasion and through acts of kindness and concern for one another truly become great again? This is our challenge, and this is also where our healing lies. What do you think?

 

What does it mean for Forgiveness to be Political?

With all the bitterness and divisiveness which has taken hold in our political world today what we urgently need to heal these divides is “the politics of forgiveness.” But you may ask: What does forgiveness in politics mean, and are politics and forgiveness related? And why is forgiveness so crucial?

I have been thinking long and hard as to what it means for forgiveness to be political. Our political world which is the public realm of our existence is fraught with conflicts, violence and all the “isms” one can imagine. How can we stop this violence and the many attacks on one another and live in a more peaceful society? When we think about forgiveness, we recognize that it is about how we choose to express ourselves and the kind of actions we will take against a perceived wrong, our choice being to choose to respond to this world with understanding, tolerance and compassion. It is tapping into the essence of who we are, what we think and what we believe in. It reveals something about us and what we hold to be true. Forgiveness becomes political when we apply this kind of thinking to our actions in the public realm. Forgiveness becomes political insofar as it is an individual political action that expresses itself first in revealing something of oneself and in the narratives that emerges and finally in how it becomes the basis in establishing new relationships.

Forgiveness is not just a personal or individual act that is limited to the private sphere. Increasingly today there is the realization that forgiveness is also necessary in the public sphere, thus also in the political realm. The politics of forgiveness is urgently needed in the United States, where the polarization is so great that it has virtually become two nations as the rhetoric surrounding our politics illustrates. The only way that equally polarized Republicans and Democrats can live together and stop their partisan sniping is through the politics of forgiveness. That may not happen any time soon but is a willingness to forgive others too much to expect from politicians, many of whom call themselves Christians?

The politics of forgiveness does work, even if it does so imperfectly. We have seen forgiveness in politics carried out in many countries especially where truth and reconciliation commissions have been established. Imperfect as these processes may have been it does not negate the healing power the politics of forgiveness can bring.

Forgiveness is a long process that requires daily reinforcement whether practiced in the personal or political realm. Political forgiveness is even messier because of the many people involved, but it is imperative that this form of politics takes root in every country of the world and especially now in the United States. Conflicts will never cease, but how people handle them is crucial. Forgiveness in politics is imperative if we want to stop doing business as usual, creating more conflict and violence and want to chose to live in a more peaceful world.

What does it mean for forgiveness to be political? I am interested in hearing about what you think. Please share your thoughts on what it means for forgiveness to be political. It is worth a conversation.

There Is Always Good!

 

I was reading a poem this morning which touched me deeply and wanted to share it with all of you. It came to me by way of the Meadows.

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated,some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people oiving in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and greamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

Kitty O’Meara

I know these are stressful times and if you need to seek help of a professional I am available through telehealth. All be well and stay safe.

The Darker the Times the Greater the Opportunity for Transformation – Milarepa

For many of us dealing with uncertainty the times we are living through can be very difficult. We don’t like feeling powerless and it is tempting to remain passive. Going within ourselves is one way to empower ourselves. If we don’t feel empowered, we can’t stand together. If we can’t stand together, we can’t take meaningful action concerning the difficult circumstances we are facing and we miss a vital opportunity to connect with this most critical moment. How can we create spiritual meaning of this unfolding experience for ourselves? How are we taking responsibility for our part in this chaos?

What we believe about this situation influences how we will act in response. How we respond co-creates the results. We are living answers to the question. The exact same situation can cause one to respond with fear while someone else will respond with compassion. How we choose to respond impacts how we feel and live our lives.

What purpose are we sharing with our words, actions and responses to our family, friends and neighbors? The act of creating meaning begins with interacting with others. Our feelings, words and actions have significant impact on those around us.

Of course, we need to take responsibility and self-isolate as much as possible and that doesn’t mean we can’t ask for support from family and friends. Remember to take time each day to reach out to loved ones and remember we are all in this together.

When you do need to leave your home remember to smile at others, it will help everyone feel better. Thank the people who are working so you can get what you need and turn to strangers and ask how they are doing.

This is our time to think about our values and to remember to align them with our actions. If we can embrace our own feelings of vulnerability and share love with all those around us this will give us meaning and purpose and help us deal with anything with dignity and grace.