“’We, The People’ is more than a statement of purpose. It is an acknowledgement of an obligation to each other.” ~ Charlie Pierce.
There are many traditions that have been lost in this technological, smart phone driven era. My family was fortunate to be blessed with many aunts, all of whom were very good about remembering birthdays, even when it meant mailing packages way in advance of the date. ‘Air mail’ was very expensive 50 years ago. It was more common to send mail from the UK to Jamaica via ‘Surface mail’, which meant upon the surface of the sea, (in the hold of a ship of course) which could take up to three weeks. But after the birthday, my mother would be on our case: ‘Did you write your thank you notes yet?’ Of course, that tedious job entailed more than just the words thank you. You wrote a note which included a run down of other gifts received, and any family news which might interest them. I guess I was lucky. Since my birthday was just after Christmas, I could combine two thank you letters in one!
But I have been thinking about this concept of acknowledgements recently. In books the author will often list people they are grateful to, people who played some significant part in the development, editing, or research for the book. Some authors incorporate their appreciation into the book itself, by naming a character after a friend. I looked up the derivation of the word acknowledge, as I wondered what the prefix ‘ack’ meant – it made me think of a cartoon character (Bill the Cat) who often made that sound! But the word apparently comes from the Old English, and although it came to mean to ‘admit one’s knowledge’ the earlier word meant ‘to understand or come to recognize’ which is resonating with me at this point of my life.
Apart from acknowledging things others have done for us, and showing appreciation for such generosity, there are times when we have to acknowledge things that have happened to us, that may have affected the trajectory of our lives. They say that in order to begin to change a habit or a way of being, we first must accept (or acknowledge) that way of being. When we do something that hurts another person we may be shocked at their response, failing to see what we had done to hurt them. We are often so busy being offended at their response, recruiting others to agree with us, that we miss the opportunity to hear, to acknowledge what we had done in the first place.
It is far more complicated when the wrongs done are not to one individual by another individual, but one race to another, one people to another. One of the biggest sins of ‘white privilege’ is the failure to acknowledge the burden that is unfairly carried by people of color. When racism is entrenched and systematically applied through housing, education and job opportunities, it doesn’t matter whether one individual does not act in a racist way. The system is rigged.
Last weekend I saw the movie Harriet, a snapshot of a powerful woman who ignored her limitations and through sheer determination (and the voice of God) risked her life to lead her people to freedom. It is a powerful, visual reminder of the reality of the abhorrent practice upon which this country was founded. It is also an opportunity to reeducate those who may have glossed over the true history of this country, who may be able to plead ignorance. For most people ‘Black history’ is a month, a time to pay lip service to the contribution of those who gave blood sweat and tears for this country.
Of course the ‘founding’ of this country also was watered by the blood of the Native Americans, who to this day are the silent heroes of this country’s history. Their stories are not freely shared, instead the Hollywood version of the ‘savages’ is still the more common place. Their truth is not acknowledged, and they struggle to overcome the trauma and barbaric practices that have destroyed so many of their families.
The last few weeks we have finally seen some exposing of the reality which is the current administration. Career professionals have demonstrated their commitment to the truth, to rule of law, to ethics and integrity, at great personal cost. Those of us who are political junkies have watched in a mix of horror and fascination, wondering how this will end. How does partisan politics overrule someone’s conscience?
Is it asking too much of our politicians that they make an evaluation based on moral and legal grounds, rather than dubious loyalty? In one category of research, the investigator must ‘bracket’ their own personal feelings, push them aside, so as not to make preconceived assumptions before they begin their study. When the average citizen is placed in a jury box, they are asked to put aside personal feelings and judge the case based on its merits. Judges frequently have to balance two sides of a case, they have to sift out the confounding facts and look only at the evidence. Why should our lawmakers decide to ignore what is in front of their eyes, why would they rather discredit the honorable patriotic people who risk their careers to come and testify rather than analyzing the facts?
When South Africa came together after Apartheid, their ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ commissions allowed for an acknowledgment of the inhuman acts perpetrated upon a people. Those accused of crimes of violence and murder were encouraged to come before the people and acknowledge their misdeeds as opposed to being charged and trying to prove cases where they could lie and justice would not be served. Those who prefer vengeance, who feel that the only way to right the wrong is to meet violence with violence were probably disappointed. But as the saying goes, the practice of ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves the whole world blind.
This Friday morning I am hopeful that more people will open their eyes and seek the truth. There are so many situations we are oblivious to, not knowing another person’s story, their history. If we are to move forward we must acknowledge the wrongs which have been done if they are to be corrected. Wherever possible we must share the truth, help to eradicate ignorance, and as the scruffy journalist Charlie Pierce eloquently says, if it is indeed ‘we the people’ we need to acknowledge our obligation to each other.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!