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 Beginning of a New Way Forward

As Charles Dickens once wrote in his novel A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worse of times.” Could this be true for us? We are coping with a pandemic and dealing with deep divisions and issues of racial injustice which are profound. Parallels have been drawn between what is happening now and during the Civil War. So where are “the best of times?”

Crisis brings opportunities. Out of our pain can come healing. We know healing begins with truth telling and accountability and fortunately we have models from around the world which we can learn from. The most notable comes from the work of Nelson Mandel and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although this commission had many flaws it is also a model which can teach us many things. Other models are emerging such as the work being done in Colombia with their truth commission. One of the most interesting aspects of this work is how it views different forms of the truth and works with the differing perceptions. Closer to home is the work done in Canada and their truth and reconciliation commission which provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

A new way forward is about transformation. It takes time and a critical mass to get there. Unfortunately, our culture has de-valued many of its citizens and so our work begins with remembering our humanity, our inner-connectedness and what it means to be a human being. It means zero tolerance for any kind of violence. In this country what we must grapple with is the ideology of racism and violence and the denial of humanity for different groups of people. The work must be comprehensive and work on all levels of society. People need to change mind sets, communities must come together and heal, and there needs to be resources and commitment on the governmental level to change structures in society so what we are now experiencing can never happen again.

Can the worse of times become the best of times? Can we embrace this moment of crisis in a healing capacity as a country so we can go forward with a new vision of who we must be as a nation and have the capacity to demonstrate empathy and care for one another, showing that we value one another? Can we transform our structures to be inclusive instead of exclusive? What I have just described is the work of political forgiveness. In practicing forgiveness politically, we can grow in compassion and empathy and out of that can develop a new culture based on our humanness. This IS our way forward and gives us an opportunity to make profound changes in our society.

For those interested in learning more about political forgiveness please go to my website www.drborris.com. Feel free to sign up for the monthly newsletter which shares information and stories on political forgiveness when you go to the website.

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.

 

Political Forgiveness 101

There is so much good work happening n the field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution which goes unnoticed and which is very inspiring. Especially heart warming are the women peace makers who bring to the mix compassion, understanding and nurturance. With all the division and “us versus them” mentality to heal these divisions and transform conflict we need to change our mindsets. This is where political forgiveness can come into play.

Political forgiveness not only include individual forgiveness but broadens the concept of forgiveness to the political arena. In a sense it can be seen as a secular version of what can be viewed as more religious or spiritual on an individual level and is about healing not only individually but also on a community and national level as well.

The question becomes “are we ready for this?” Are we at a place where we are willing to let go of our need to be right for the sake of others and to be willing to really listen and hear one another especially behind the what is being said? There is so much fear that we are feeling. Fear of not having a place in society or fear of losing our place, or that we feel we do not matter. There is fear of losing control or not having control and the list goes on.

When we allow ourselves to engage in a political forgiveness process, we begin with the understanding that we want to come together and finally listen to one another. We are willing to acknowledge our part in what ever situation which has been causing conflict, take responsibility for it and work together in a healing capacity. There ae many steps to a political forgiveness process and in order to engage it begins with changing mindsets – a difficult process for some and a process which can be quite profound for others.

In transforming conflict, a political forgiveness process is necessary. Forgiveness on any level requires an inner shift within our beings. In an address to a joint session of the United States Congress in 1990 former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel said that “without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, a more humane society will not emerge.” Stopping the cycles of anger, hatred, and fear which fuel so much suffering, requires a radical change in our thinking. Without this change we will stay stuck in the quagmire of violence and aggression, passing down to each generation the legacy of violence and guilt which will only perpetuate these cycles. If, on the other hand, we are honestly committed to transforming consciousness, then we will recognize that the true heroes are those individuals who are not afraid to look within, to change the way they think, and heal the pain of their heart. This kind of healing transformation is what forgiveness is about.

Healing ourselves, our communities and our nations is not east work, but it is necessary if we want to live more peacefully with one another. The gift is that when we have the courage to do things differently and make changes within ourselves our lives become richer, fuller and more meaningful. When we can listen to one another and help alleviate someone else’s fear by our compassion and understanding we are creating more peaceful societies and a more peaceful world.

 

T

Where has Our Civility Gone?

The other day I was reading in my Nextdoor listserv about a man offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for stealing the Biden/Harris lawn signs in their neighborhood during the night of October 17th. This person will offer a similar reward in the unfortunate event that there is another widespread theft of political lawn signs, regardless of the candidate or cause promoted by the signs. Clearly this individual understands the importance of freedom of speech and the fragility of our democracy. He also understands something about civility.

Where has our civility gone and are we becoming a “culture of rage?” We as a people and a culture need to become more compassionate, tolerant, and empathetic. We need to have more respect for one another. Instead of being so judgmental and sarcastic towards one another, to be more understanding especially concerning the fears that have been engendered within us. We have become incredibly angry people. Is this what we want to be as Americans, as people who once led the world?

I hear of talk of civil war within the United States. We may think this cannot happen in the US but we are already in a political civil war and it is tearing this country apart. Think about this. Is this what we want? There have been times not so long ago when on Capitol Hill leaders from across the aisle would disagree with one another during the day and at night would have drinks with one another, enjoying one another. There was civility and even friendships. Where has this gone? Have we lost our moral and civil compass? Have we gotten so self-centered that we have stopped caring about our neighbor, our community, about one another?

 

It is important that we talk with one another about our fears and concerns – those across our aisle – and remember to treat each other with respect and decency so we can heal the division between “us and them.”

 

How can we stop this political civil war? What has created it and do we care enough to be our better angels where human decency was the norm? We must get back to ourselves, to what makes us feel good as human beings and let that be our guide as to how we choose to be throughout our day. It is important that we talk with one another about our fears and concerns – those across our aisle – and remember to treat each other with respect and decency so we can heal the division between “us and them.” We CAN do this and we might even learn from one another that we are not so different from each other and that we can actually add to the richness of our lives by being there for one another instead of spewing anger and hate towards one another.

There is a glimmer of hope that some people are wanting to turn the tide. Just last night I saw a political campaign ad put out by Utah governor candidates Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and law professor Chris Peterson (D)together calling for civility. The ad showed the two men standing next to each other asking viewers together to “show the country that there’s a better way.”

United We Stand

 

“We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” Peterson says.

“We can disagree without hating each other,” adds Cox.

“No matter who wins the presidential election, we must all commit to a peaceful transfer of power and working together. So please vote and then let’s #standunited for a better America,” the lieutenant governor added.

“Our common values transcend our political differences and the strength of our nation rests on our ability to see that,” Peterson said in a second ad.

They both ended the ad by saying “we approve this ad!” How refreshing this was to see and yes, this is how we can truly be.

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Loving Kindness

It has been a very emotional time – one with a lot of pain and suffering for some, and for others we have witnessed a lot of anger and hate. With the threat of the pandemic worsening, with presidential elections coming up and with the divisions within our country becoming deeper there is something all of us can do – be kinder and more loving towards each other. We need this more than ever before.

I often speak of political forgiveness and its importance in the healing of any nation. Political forgiveness may sound very abstract but in fact it requires all of us to participate if we care enough to make our country a better place. It begins with changing our mindsets, so we do not automatically respond to what we see in anger or in a self-centered way of being. There is too much of this. We need to focus more on responding to one another with greater understanding, empathy, and compassion. In the trying times that we are living through these are the qualities that are so needed if we want to participate in the healing of this nation.

Much healing is necessary in the United States especially concerning our racial divide, yet we do not need to wait for a healing mechanism to be put into place for this to happen. It must begin with each one of us changing our mindsets. We need to get out of this rut of a kind of thinking based only in self-interest and recognize that what is really important is how we care for one another. This is the only way we can move forward in a positive direction and get through these difficult times. We must develop a social consciousness, come together, and care for each other.

We have heard over again – what kind of Americans do we want to be? We are at a crossroads and what happens depends on each one of us. We all matter. Who do we really want to be? The choice is ours. I for one, choose to see this world with greater understanding, empathy and compassion. This is the mindset I choose to adapt to and give more energy to. It is a mindset that will support a healing process and one which begins to lay the foundation for a political forgiveness process to take hold in this beautiful country of ours. I hope more of you will do the same for together we can make an incredibly positive difference in this country and the world we are living in today.

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What Happens When Countries Cannot Heal

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Imagine a child, lying dead, having been washed up on a Turkish beach as he, and his family, attempt to reach Greece and flee from the ongoing civil war and humanitarian crisis currently laying waste to Syria. It happened, and it shocked the world. This gut-wrenching and emotion evoking image highlights the true cost of conflict. News organizations around the world focus on the battles between government forces and rebels, the role terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State (ISIS) play in the conflict, and the varying degrees of intervention by other nations. What is often forgotten is how this conflict profoundly affects those victims to the conflict, the ordinary citizens trying to protect their family and friends, whose sole mission is just trying to survive.

With so much conflict being experienced around the world it is a wonder why more time and effort is not spent on the healing of nations. Other factors seem to play center stage. Yet when societies ignore the importance of healing to the extent that healing does not occur, trauma is passed on to the next generation, a strong desire for revenge is felt and high levels of mistrust are maintained towards the ethnic groups marginalized in society.

Political Forgiveness affords individuals and communities opportunities to openly talk about their experiences and heal the painful memories of the past.

What entails a political forgiveness process? It begins with an acknowledgment by governments of the human rights violations which have taken place. Truth telling is another important component of a political forgiveness process. This includes dialogue between victims and perpetrators, providing spaces and opportunities for individual healing processes to occur as well as group and community processes that allow for the communal healing of memories. It is important for traumatized communities to heal together. On a national level a country must decide what to do in a healing capacity to bring a nation together.

when nations do not heal, the lack of healing results in the need to pass “the story” on to the next generation, a desire for revenge which continues to build

What we know is that when nations do not heal, the lack of healing results in the need to pass “the story” on to the next generation, a desire for revenge which continues to build especially when groups are humiliated and cannot express resentment and mistrust that develops within communities towards survivors, and from survivors and communities towards their governments. These are formidable negative consequences and clearly point to the importance of developing a systematic approach to political forgiveness. The question still remains, why is there such a lack of political will to help nations heal? Are well all to blame?

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A Tribute to the Courageous and Beautifully Spiritual John Lewis

“Walk with the winds brothers and sisters and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide”

John Lewis –

           Representative John Lewis died July 17, 2020 at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer serving more than three decades in Congress. A civil rights icon who began his life as the son of sharecroppers was by all accounts an ordinary man who because of his bravery, his acts of courage and commitment to making this world a better, more just place,  has changed this world. Almost losing his life during bloody Sunday’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and being on the frontlines of a bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, Lewis never gave up hope for making this country a better nation.

Lewis reminded us to answer the highest calling of one’s heart. He spent his life demonstrating that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the best way if we want to achieve that peace. What Lewis was describing are principles of political forgiveness. Political forgiveness triumphs over violence, aggression, and war. It is a healing force that unites us instead of that which divides us. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It is a healing force that helps us understand one another instead of hating one another. What John Lewis stood for was political forgiveness in action. His attitude and philosophy in life was based on love. He regarded everyone with dignity and respect. His civil rights activism and his views on nonviolence were based in restoring relationships. And his greatest dedication to his life was changing political structures from those that supported structural violence to those that reflected justice and equality. The Voting Act of 1965 reflected that. As former president Barack Obama said about Mr. Lewis, “he as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals.” Political forgiveness is one of those highest ideals.

We are a work in progress. Much healing needs to take place on all levels of society. This is where the power lies in a political forgiveness process. It addresses all levels of society in a coordinated and healing capacity. Lewis demonstrated moral courage and has asked us to do the same. Forgiveness requires moral courage. Lewis stood for unity not division, love not hatred and embraced taking responsibility to create a better society. These are some of the principles of forgiveness on a political level. Lewis never gave up and persevered against all odds. These are the qualities for us to emulate especially in a political forgiveness process.

John Lewis will be profoundly missed. Let us never forget the light that he shined upon this world. The greatest tribute we can pay to John Lewis is to keep fighting for what he stood for and in the way he led his life. He was truly a most spiritual human being.

Forgiveness And the Healing of America

Published in Real Leaders Magazine June 4, 2020

Senate Democratic Caucus Holds 8 Minutes 46 Seconds Of Silence At U.S. Capitol

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 04: Senate Democrats, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), take a knee as they participate in a moment of silence to honor George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. Protests continue to be held in cities throughout the country over the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

At 9:05 pm on Wednesday, June 17, 2016, the unthinkable happened. Nine people were murdered while worshiping at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. An unlikely place for a murder you may think, but an occurrence that has, unfortunately, become more commonplace, especially in light of the recent George Floyd incident.

That night in Charleston triggered protests and rioting from Missouri to Maryland. The “Black Lives Matter” movement was born, and hints emerged of a white supremacist race war in the heart of the old confederacy. Luckily, that never happened — grace and forgiveness emerged instead, led by survivors of the massacre.

Some of us may find it hard to understand how those affected could forgive anything, considering the trauma and loss they endured, but they realized how critical the engagement of this process was in healing their community. Importantly, they understood the pain went beyond them as individuals; it represented bigger, symbolic issues on a national (even global) scale.

Forgiveness helps us let go of emotional burdens, pain, and suffering. For some groups, it can even mean survival, especially for African Americans, who have survived slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, and racism. For them, forgiveness can sometimes become another survival technique. However, the act of forgiveness does not rest on African Americans alone — all Americans need to brave this process. It will be uncomfortable for everyone, but until we look at ourselves honestly, deal with our past appropriately, and change the pervasive structures of violence within our country, we will only go deeper into a dark hole.

It’s a painful process that begins with emerging from the denial of wrongdoing and correcting it no matter what the price. Many countries have already demonstrated the will to do this, through truth and reconciliation initiatives in places such as Argentina, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Rwanda, South Africa, and approximately 30 other nations.

In a country as vast as the United States, where does one begin? As a global power, with the potential to become a moral compass for the world, we have a unique opportunity to work on all levels of society — being the globally diverse country that we are.

Political forgiveness begins with renouncing the act of revenge. This should be coupled with the building of historical memory, transitional and restorative justice, and a move to exclude violence from the structures of society.

Political forgiveness does not mean impunity or forgetfulness. It creates the possibility of a future in which intolerance, violence, and repression give way to peaceful, sustainable co-existence. For us to recover from decades of pain and suffering, there is a need to help people transform their thinking so that every citizen affected can move forward and lead a more productive, peaceful, and happier life.

After political forgiveness, individual forgiveness should follow. The massacre in Charleston and the murder of George Floyd has a profound effect on communities. In the Charleston case, many found an ability to forgive the killer. Those who struggled with this idea still recognized the importance of healing the anger. This type of reaction is a step in the right direction, but deeper issues that cause these events should be examined as part of a solution.

How do we come together to address the root issues that appeared at the birth of this nation? At a community level, we need to create public spaces where everyone can be heard, considered, and understood. We need soul searching that recognizes our collective complicity and shared history. This is not about beating ourselves up, but realizing we have alternate choices that can support the healing of a nation.

If we seriously want to heal America, we need to root out harmful policies. The work of political forgiveness on a structural level is to work together to right the wrongs passed down between generations until there is true equality. The Charleston and Floyd incident demonstrates the worst of human behavior in an individual and the best of human behavior in countless strangers. This country was built on an incredible legacy, underpinned with the moral and spiritual foundations of immigrants, settlers, and indigenous peoples. We already know from history that we have this inner strength and spiritual wisdom. Let these principles guide us.

NATIONS WORKING TO RIGHT THE WRONGS
Many countries have established truth and reconciliation commissions to help reveal past wrongdoings by a government — in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past. Usually set up by states emerging from periods of internal unrest, civil war, or dictatorship, these national initiatives are important in identifying what actually happened, understanding how opposing ideologies and worldviews can cause problems, and finding closure and healing for survivors of traumatic experiences. Here are some examples.

Canada
The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a commission that investigated the human rights abuses in the Canadian Indian residential school system. It ran from June 2008 through June 2015.

Colombia
The National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation aims to help victims recover from more than 50 years of armed conflict.

Germany
Germany created a Commission of Inquiry for the Assessment of History and Consequences, which looks into crimes of the Socialist Unity Party in East Germany after unification in 1992.

Mauritius
The Truth and Justice Commission of Mauritius was an independent truth commission established in 2009, which explored the impact of slavery and indentured servitude in Mauritius.

Sierra Leone
At the end of the Sierra Leone civil war in 1999, the country created a Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission which reported that both sides had targeted civilians, including children, and called for improvements in democratic institutions and accountability.

South Africa
After the transition from apartheid, President Nelson Mandela authorized a truth commission under the leadership of former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to study the effects of apartheid in that country.

United States
The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a non-governmental body that ran from 2004-2006 to investigate deadly events in the city that took place around November 3, 1979 and came to be known as the Greensboro Massacre.

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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.