When I did get to see it, Youtuber Sailor J took out her jumbo makeup brush to apply foundation in the shade of “If You’re White You Have a Mental Illness and if You’re Brown You’re a Terrorist;” “Bulletproof Black mascara to match the vest that we’re going to have to start putting on our children if we want them to make it past the sixth fucking grade”; and blush in the shade of “Blood of our Children, because it’s what we’re bathing in these days.”
Sailor nailed the emotion many have been feeling about T + P “thoughts and prayers” in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the 18th this year, with the precision of a freshly-sharpened lip pencil. She captured the grief, the outrage, the frustration, and the seeming futility of all the empty promises.
There is no quick fix, no 3-minute Youtube video that will solve gun violence in the U.S. For this — or for any of the many other of the gaping wounds in our society we don’t seem to be able to “just get over” or “pray away.” We all know too many people suffering and we have had it with the half-measures and bandaid fixes. We are reaching a boiling point where we are realizing that we need something else.
So when thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough, what now?
After having more than a few years to think about this, you start to notice that the United States is not the first society on earth to be suffering from horrible abscesses that do not seem to be able to shift. When you look at what has worked in other countries, at other points in history, you start to see over and over, different versions of truth and reconciliation, each time in new forms.
Take Germany. The German people perpetrated the worst horror in modern times. Visiting Germany as an American, it is striking to visit the medieval castles, some from the 1400s. And then to visit other small cities where no building is any older than 75 years old — because everything in the city was demolished by bombing campaigns during WWII. And yet in those same cities today, they are models of ecological sustainability, Germany has the best economy in all of Europe, and are doing the most to provide safe haven for refugees.
How did they do this? And in less than 80 years? A big part of it is that as a society, over many decades, they went through a process of truth and reconciliation. They continue that process today, with acknowledgement of the death camps, education in schools, and public memorials. They do not push the truth into the shadows.
Each national calamity requires a different approach, but there is a basic recipe that worked most famously in Germany and South Africa, but in many other countries as well. Here in the US, truth and reconciliation has been working at a community level, and in restorative justice circles. On an interpersonal basis, people are becoming free from the wounds that have been in their systems for generations — you could say through a process of truth and reconciliation.
What is the basic recipe for truth and reconciliation?
- Listen deeply; know the story in its many layers.
- Find the truth of the situation on all sides; and the true source of the situation; who or what forces contributed.
- Come to an understanding and acknowledge what has been found.
- Find a way to make restitutions that all parties feel satisfied by. It will look different for each situation; it could be symbolic; it could be monetary; it could be a solemn vow to move forward in a new way.
What would it looks like if truth and reconciliation “T + R” were applied to the social problems that thoughts and prayers “T + P” alone have not been able to reach? To healing from slavery and the racial justice issues of today? To the legacy of colonialism and native genocide? To the oppression of women? To the way humans have treated the earth?
Truth and reconciliation is not about blame, or defending who is guilty and who is innocent. And it is not about simply saying “sorry” or “I forgive you.” Even though these words might come out along the way, it is not the words alone that cause the spontaneous unraveling of generations of wounding. The potency, the thing that has true transformative power, is doing each step of the recipe.
If you watch the movie A Long Night’s Journey Into Day about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, you will see some very anguished people. Sure, it hurts to touch into the pain. It is a certain kind of hell to look into the face of the one who murdered my loved one.
But as Desmond Tutu points out: look into the faces of the people as they come out of the court room. It is more than relief from crying the well-placed tears, pinpointed at the place of grief. The look on their faces: it is true liberation. It is an experience of touching justice with a capital “J.” It is a sense of liberation that is much bigger than any one person. It is the knowledge, that they will no longer need to go roaming the earth, in this generation or in the next, to rebalance the cosmic scales. These are people who are deeply resolved and can move on. It shows in the faces of the victims families, and it shows in the faces of the perpetrators as well.
We are sending up our hopes and prayers for THAT.
Forget T + P, we want T + R.