At the end of the apartheid era in South Africa in 1994, one of the most brilliant decisions made early on was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was based on an act passed in 1995 (Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act) on the belief that “a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.” It was an opportunity for victims and perpetrators to tell their stories and seek assistance in some cases and amnesty in others–and for the men and women of South Africa to rebuild their nation freed of the burdens of the apartheid era.
I know that I am simplifying a complex process that continues to the this day–but the lessons learned are instructive and cautionary as we continue to grapple with truth and lies in our body politic and in our personal lives.
No, it is never okay to abuse someone–whether physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally. Just as it is never okay to perpetrate abuses against classes of persons whether they be ethnic, religious, sexual or otherwise. More to the point in what feels like a veritable war on sanity and justice–perhaps we all owe it to ourselves to confront our own truths and lies and an adage I take to heart, which is that cheating at solitaire serves no purpose, except perhaps to “kick the can” down the road as sooner or later truth wins out.
In the case of Rob Porter the current poster child for cheating at solitaire–here we have by all reports a brilliant person, who just happens to be an abusive sod. His behavior was abhorrent in not one, but two marriages, all known and discussed, ad infinitum it would seem, to include discussions with clergy and others as it was all playing out, not once, but twice. Fast forward lots of years and here he is begging his wives to downplay his abusive behavior so that he can get his FBI clearance–with nary a thought to what would happen to them if they perjured themselves. Not to mention the current President of the United States whose twitter rants read like alternative fiction when it comes to taking responsibility for ones actions.
I’ve lived long enough to observe and experience the ebb and flow of progressive politics, gender wars, civil rights fights and the inevitable backlash. I’ve also seen the lip service paid to affording people “equal” rights–while hearing damnable prejudice, sexism and everything else one can think of flung about quite openly.
In a recent conversation at Gleason’s Gym, someone was speaking of his Jewish grandmother who’d left Poland in the early 1900s. He had asked her one day if she’d ever go back and she said, “Never. I have no good memories there. My brother and my cousin were both killed for nothing. Why would I go back?”
We mulled that over for a minute or two, and then he said, “Can you imagine that? That’s why America was like gold to her and her generation.”
After a moment I said, “For her perhaps, but that was life for Black folks: people killed for nothing. Was it gold for them?”
And that, I believe is the crux of things for us. We refuse to see our own truths for what they are: we ignore the truths of our lives as victims and as perpetrators, and in so doing we perpetuate these actions as normative. Think of the parent who insists they are setting their kid straight when language spews out that belittles and diminishes their child, or think of the actions of a President who calls out an entire ethnic group as rapists and criminals.
It really is up to us to say enough as enough, and if not in the formal setting of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission–at the very least in the conduct of our daily lives and in how we hold our elected leaders accountable.