Love of country, like love of an individual, requires truth, forgiveness, justice, mercy and grace. No substantive relationship exists without conflict. How one manages that conflict determines the strength of the relationship. Forgiveness is also essential to any substantive relationship. Reconciliation is an important component of forgiveness, thus an essential component of love. Therefore, if we love this country, we must be willing to embrace conflict, truth, reconciliation, change and forgiveness.
If someone has done you harm, even if they did not intend to, that conflict must be addressed. If it is ignored, it will fester. Can you imagine someone saying, “Yes, I know I hurt your feelings in the past and I never said I was sorry but look at all the good I did!” You would consider that an abusive relationship. Acknowledging our past sins and their lingering consequences does not negate our core values, it reinforces them. Reconciling the past does not diminish the good that has been done or our potential for good in the future; it enables more good! Yes we can, and must, extend a measure of grace to those who erred, fell short or have done us harm. Grace leads to forgiveness; it does not, however, absolve one of the responsibility of truth. We can’t as a nation be what we want to be if we refuse to be honest with who we’ve been, the good and the bad.
Acknowledgment of misdeeds is not enough. There must be reconciliation. To reconcile there must also be truth. Truth and reconciliation are companion virtues, as are justice and mercy, forgiveness and love. Without them, we can no more hope for a healthy relationship than we can hope for a healthy republic. We must avoid the temptation to frame our history in narrative that only highlights the highlights. To do so denies the truth and impedes our ability to be our best. We must believe that “the truth will set us free.” and embrace it.
“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. …we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”Brian Stevenson Just Mercy
We cannot hide behind a shield of tolerance, diversity, inclusion and acceptance and consider ourselves finished. Those are means to an end. Truth and reconciliation will require honesty and action. It will require that we learn to live with the discordant idea that our destiny is always out of reach but that the reaching itself has value. Blame, shame, accusation and avoidance must yield to truth and reconciliation. Embracing truth will require us to be more honest about our history. We must recognize that our own dependency on narratives, monuments and false ideas have allowed us to perpetuate abuse and avoid reconciliation. Embracing reconciliation will require forgiveness and mercy. It will require the creation of new narratives and new visions that are more honest, inclusive and equitable.
We are our brother’s keeper. We have to be honest with ourselves that we have a criminal punishment system not a criminal justice system. That we value incarceration over reconciliation. Punishment over progress. We must be honest about the fact that our economy celebrates excess and ignores equality, an economy that rewards consolidation and hinders innovation. We can no longer accept a nation that acknowledges racism but refuses reconciliation.
How we go about this truth and reconciliation will require the redistribution of power and resources, as does any change to the status quo. That will be, and should be, political. Our best ideas should compete to produce our best outcomes. The idea that we should embrace truth and reconciliation is not a political question, it is a moral one! We should not think ourselves patriots if we fail to embrace truth and reconciliation, justice and mercy. We must commit to the soul searching, back breaking, sober work it will take to move forward, ever pursuing, and never fully realizing, our potential.