Truth & Reconciliation

We live in a very vindictive culture and the peace process of clearing the air in interpersonal relationships is mostly never attempted. In my experience, late millennials and Gen Z, especially, but people generally, are incapable of forgiveness, clearing the air, or any type of kinship or fraternity with people with whom they have had friction. That is not nearly their only obstacle to making peace given what the making of peace often requires. People tend to take plausible deniability or rationalize themselves out of responsibility for a transgression if ever they can so the apologies and atonement needed for true closure and healing are hard to come by. It is stereotype that subtle cruelty goes unnoticed until answered in the overt and the latter is the only person blamed. The guilty party can neither get absolution or even a diminished capacity defense if the other side is superficially completely sympathetic.

The most common form of bullying I endured on the spectrum was having my lack of social awareness exploited so I humiliated myself and amused people. This was far less overtly bad as the literally getting pissed on was but I was apologized to by my overt bullies more than my less overt ones. The less overt ones deny they ever did anything wrong. They saw me as truly talented, apparently, and they were not sadistically enjoying my humiliation. I wish nothing ill on them but I want an atonement they’ll never give me because their acts were just subtle enough so they can lawyer their way out of it. This is a huge problem for many reasons. The first of which is that the diagnosis upon which cures are designed cannot be made. The public and official line becomes that the subtle forms of cruelty never happened and the result is trauma for the victims which, as far as the official line is concerned, came from nowhere.

The suggestion that, eventually, the victims should just move on if they can’t get an apology doesn’t work because it is not merely that the victimizers had impunity and never answered for their sins but something far darker, that by dictating the narrative in such a way as to absolve them of guilt they deny society the ability to rectify its own institutions to prevent such transgressions from recurring. The point of truth and reconciliation is not merely emotional and spiritual atonement. It is a discovery process without any depositions, trials, or charges so that, in the absence of fear, the fullest and most accurate account of the events may be understood for the benefit of designing future policies. It is a trial with no threat of punishment so the defendant has no incentive to lie or distort the truth because it is much more important to get useful information for the drafting of policy than it is to rend whatever sanctions a party may deserve. It is very practical.

The idea that every crime deserves a punishment is counterproductive to the social scientific and psychological scientific efforts to combat anti-social behavior. It is also important that in the process of truth and reconciliation that judgments should be mild and no one should be made to feel like they are a monster or anything worse than a human with all of the brokenness and flaws constituent in membership of that species. The defendant in a process of truth and reconciliation should have as little reason to obscure the truth as possible. As a means of handling real crime, it is a much more civilized means of processing it. People terrified for their lives that are on the line are reduced to a state beneath what a human should be. Facing one’s accuser or the other party in a minor, nonviolent, interpersonal conflict in person and in a calm setting with a proper mediator will usually activiate mirror neurons and lower the emotional heat for all sides. Such mediations should occur in non-institutional settings such as over lunch or coffee with small-talk before the formal mediation to weaken the defenses of all sides.

Still, in the most ideal case, there is the problem of subtle crimes and the control of narrative. Even with the least pressure, people will still be tempted to rationalize in their own favor which is not to mention the cognitive biases which do the same thing less consciously. Furthermore, there are factors that may be unknown to all sides. If a party has, for example, undiagnosed bipolar disorder which led to a transgression. Forgiveness and reconciliation may be easier to come by if that condition were diagnosed. The greatest factor in reconciliation is understanding but the temptation to rationalize, cognitive biases, and just ignorance of various factors make that quite difficult. The process of truth and reconciliation should be cognizant of all of those factors and try to counter and control for them in analysis. Try to gage what is likely unknown, what subset of the unknown can be found out, go through the known list of cognitive biases and see if any part of the narratives may be influenced by them, and acknowledge the urge to skew a narrative in one’s own direction.

I was recently in a text thread with a seminary student and we discoursed about platonic ghosting and I texted him this “If Jesus can forgive serial killers then you can handle an awkward conversation. This isn’t the failure to conquer a mountain but the refusal to conquer a molehill. God is proud of even failed efforts at virtue, he is disappointed at apathy which the refusal to conquer a molehill would suggest.” In earlier articles, I have talked about revenge, hatred, and the rest in interpersonal relations. I used examples like Taylor Swift’s “Picture to Burn” and Carrie Underwood’s “Before he Cheats”. This species may not be capable of the average specimen loving a murderer or a rapist. However, I would like to believe that the average person can love most of their neighbors despite petty dramas without burning them in effigy, exacting revenge on their property, or fantasizing about those things. We may not be able to forge a universal fraternity of love but, perhaps, short of that, we can forge a humanity where we struggle to love the worst offenders but that the petty and small offenders are easy to love. As that would cover most of humanity, we’d be damn close to universal love.

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