The theme of this year’s Assembly is “Addressing The Whole Truth About America.” The theme is meant to inspire us to address key questions such as, “Is America all that it should be? All that it could be? Is America living up to its aspirations?” The quick and easy answers are “no,” “no,” and “no.” Given the complexity and breadth of the theme, I would do well to leave it at that but have so many nagging questions I just can’t leave it alone.
Let me at least shrink the topic a bit. Let’s start with replacing “America” with a much smaller entity – I think we ought to take good looks into our own closets and not assume our experience and understanding applies to two whole continents. To my mind, even the “United States of America” is too broad to address in a meaningful way. Instead of “America” perhaps we can consider “what I have been told about or have experienced” as the area for consideration.
And let’s replace “whole truth” with “some disquieting truths” or, better yet, “some extremely awful truths.” As someone with leanings toward philosophical pragmatism I don’t expect it is possible or helpful to consider “whole” truths – our perceptions of truths are constantly in flux and subject to revision.
I’ve been hearing a fair amount of controversy about “critical race theory” in recent months and, rather than go with my knee-jerk reaction, have been taking a bit of time to read about the complaints raised by people who object to it as a way to examine policies and practices. I’ve come away amazed by the eagerness to turn a blind eye to the painful facts of how a dominant segment of the culture has behaved in ways that have wrought evil upon others.
I’m trying to understand how that can happen. I know I find myself wanting to turn away from the violence and inhumanity promulgated by my ancestors, institutionalized by laws and practices, and inadequately challenged by me and others who speak for greater equity. I want to turn away but I can’t keep myself from looking. Knowing the accounts are out there in books, articles, plays, films… I am drawn back again and again. And I am repelled again and again, too.
I’m reminded of the first time I cut myself deeply enough to require stitches. I’ll spare myself the gory details since I’m still traumatized by the experience but I do recall what it was like to take off the bandage and to see the stitches that were closing up my wound. It was strange to see the threads emerging from my skin and it prompted a recollection of the pain I experienced in the doctor’s office. I quickly let go of that recollection so I could refocus and attend to my wound. This was repeated every day for a week or so when I steeled myself and removed the stitches.
Wounds may heal but they don’t really go away. And when we are wounded, we are changed by the experience. In my case I developed a new respect for how easy it is to be injured by sharp things. It took a while to get back to routines that involved handling sharp edges and I still feel fear 55 years later.
You don’t have to be injured yourself to be traumatized by injury. My children and other loved ones have managed to get hurt and require emergency care and I am haunted by the experiences of being a first responder or by being a bystander. In fact, just hearing about an injury after the fact is enough to discombobulate me.
So with all that in mind, I can muster some empathy for those who, rather than experience the trauma of exposure to violence, look the other way. I get it and I feel it, too.
There is a difference between empathizing and forgiving, however. I am not ready to forgive myself for not looking deeply enough and I am not inclined to be forgiving toward others who knowingly turn away and don’t try to look back. And I object even more so when people discourage others learning the painful truths.
With that in mind, I am encouraged that the Ethical Movement is engaged in efforts to look at and respond to the injustice and oppression that has been characteristic of the culture we are a part of. I am also mindful of how difficult it can be to see and hold on to the truths that we would rather not be witness to and hope we will support each other along our journeys of discovery.
We are now heading into the 9th and final week of the AEU Assembly and there are 4 events to join from today through Sunday. I’ve listed this week’s offerings below and if you missed any of last week’s events and would like to view them, Anna has made videos available for each session.
Here’s the list of last week’s presentations:
Tuesday, July 27, 8:00pm – 9:30pm ET: Representing Ethical Culture In Interfaith Settings James Croft — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDg2BPODVp0
Back to this week’s events. Please remember that you can view all of these events on the aeu.org website’s 2021 Assembly Calendarand links to the events are on the AEU Connections calendar so you can grab the Zoom link you’ll need when you need it.
Tuesday, August 3, 8 pm – 9:30 pm ET: Ethical Culture in 40 Years Christian Hayden — https://bit.ly/AEUAssemblySessions
As we enter a critical period of being post-pandemic, it is an opportune time to think about what we want Ethical Culture to become. Though it feels we have this conversation often, very rarely is it documented, and presented and weighed. With this workshop, we would like to collect various voices in the movement to articulate the Ethical Culture they want to exist in 40 years. It is likely many of us will not be here to see it, but the question of what we want to exist beyond us is something humans need to do more often. Truth is constantly being created, what we work to put into reality is a manifestation of our beliefs and deeply held principles. We must then take time to shape the truth that we want to exist.
Anne Klaeysen, Leader Emerita of the New York Society for Ethical Culture
Robert Berson, Leader, Northern Westchester Society
Future Ethical Culture Leaders Greg Bonin, Christian Hayden, Louise Jett, and Sarah Tielemanns
Elizabeth Collier, Chair, AEU Leadership Committee
Jason Mandell & Jean Rohe
Immediately following the All Society Platform, Join members of the National Leaders Council and the AEU Assembly as Elizabeth Mulhall Collier issues certification to our newest Ethical Culture Leader.
Hope to see you sometime this week!
This post originally appeared at AEU.org.