In response to the riot at the Capitol building Wednesday, leaders said, “this isn’t who we are; we aren’t people who do this.” And I internally cringed. Because clearly, we are people who do this—because we did—my fellow Americans—did this.
The statement “this isn’t who we are” is a judgment statement, and it doesn’t allow for growth. Because until we can admit, yep, as a society, this is who we are, we can’t make change. I want to stand on the moral high ground. THEY are bad people. THEY are evil. THEY are stupid, ignorant, and unworthy. And yet, I know they are husbands, wives, sisters, and fathers. They are human.
As humans, we can ‘otherize’ people to the point that we want to inflict violence. As humans, we are entitled, judgmental, and prone to blame to make ourselves feel better. Humans are messy and imperfect. We are capable of evil and extreme kindness all at the same time. It isn’t an all or nothing proposition; it is a both-and idea.
To be clear, I am not excusing people. I am furious about what happened. The people who stormed the Capitol and desecrated it should be punished. When I make a bad decision that causes harm and destruction, I should pay the price for that decision.
If we are going to make change personally and at a societal level, we have to be willing to own the uncomfortable parts of who we are. This summer, I remember walking the dog and listening to Brene Brown’s interview with Ibram X Kendi and he explained how we are awash in racism is it raining from the sky. We are all racist. I can remember exactly where I was when I heard this, and I can remember the extreme relief I felt. It isn’t a moral failing. It isn’t an issue of a good person or a bad person; it just is. I was so stuck in defensiveness in proving ‘this isn’t who I am ‘that I couldn’t move forward to make change. Now months later, I can more easily own where my biases show up. I can question myself and see the ‘otherizing’ of people that I so naturally do. Practicing noticing without judging allows for growth.
But when we stand up and say ‘this is not who we are,’ we ignore the facts. As a society, this is who we are. We all watched it happen live on television. But standing on the moral high ground doesn’t make change.
I don’t have the answers for moving forward with our country that is divided, with systemic racism and bias so rampant it is impossible to ignore. But I do, on both an individual and societal level, know we need to start owning; this is who we are. Because if we don’t change cannot happen.