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30 Days of Love: 25/30

Posted by Carey McDonald // February 12th 2013 // soundings, Stories and Voices // no comments

Two years ago, I attended a workshop at General Assembly with a panel people who had ancestors that had owned slaves. It was a moving experience to hear these folks grapple with the notion of the terrible deeds of their kin from centuries past. The moment that most sticks in my memory is when someone in the audience asked a question about reparations, a decidedly concrete approach to justice and forgiveness. Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, one of our most prominent UU ministers of African descent (read about his incredible slave-owning family history in his memoir In Between), responded that, while he couldn’t speak to dollar amounts, what he really wanted was to be whole.

To be whole. What a powerful notion, one that is both very small and very big at the same time. I believe that is at the heart of restorative justice, the approach that has generated “truth and reconciliation” processes in the most difficult situations. These processes, the most famous of which was sponsored by the South African government in the 1990’s to put an end to the legacy of apartheid, are an attempt to allow the wholeness of individuals who had been victims and perpetrators of unconscionable acts to emerge in their wake. By valuing the truth of experience over moral judgements the truth and reconciliation approach seeks to heal entire communities, to make them whole.

Though the truth and reconciliation process is usually connected to brutality of historic scale, what about reconciling and truth-telling in everyday life? What about the restorative justice of Tuesday and Thursday? There are countless ways in which we hurt or are hurt by others, and perhaps we can learn how to respond to those common problems by looking at the way we deal with the largest ones. Forcing ourselves to hear people’s pain, to witness their humanity, and to own up to wrongs that we’ve done, wittingly or unwittingly, is a decidedly adult approach to conflict. But it’s also what’s required if we want to find our way towards the beloved community in our midst.

This approach is really about prioritizing the first and seventh principles, each person’s inherent worth and dignity and the interdependent web of existence, over a need to even the score with an eye for an eye, and it’s about what can lead us to the promised land more than it is about right and wrong. It may be hard to accept, but the slow and painful telling of stories might actually be the quickest, most effective way to get there.

February 12, 2013. Put Rapid Response in Place.

The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

What can we do?

  • Nominate a young person (ages 8-22) for the Peace First Prize. This “Nobel for the young,” developed by UU minister Rev. Eric Dawson in his role as President and Co-Founder of Peace First, will showcase young people who have confronted injustice, crossed lines of difference, and had the courage and compassion to create lasting change.
  • Visit the Un-Fair Campaign’s website, started by community groups in Duluth, MN who wanted to allow white folks to engage with the local legacy of racial oppression. The site has gripping images and helpful tools: unfaircampaign.org.
  • Be a witness and and an ally. Don’t flinch in the face of the tough reality of others’ experience, because there is much to be gained from an honest accounting of history. Our continued presence and refusal to dismiss the experiences of others affirms our mutual humanity.


About the Author

Carey is the Chief Operating Officer for the UUA.
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