Good, Truth, Harm, and our Spiraling Violence

With this project called The Good Decision I have found myself deeply wound up in the profound, frequently contradictory difficulties presented by the word ‘good’. In my own journey I hold within me a conscious commitment to three attributes; forgiveness, mercy and grace. These are for me aspirational attributes. I am not there yet and I want to fully incorporate these attributes which are central components of what I sense to be good. The people who taught me ‘good’ modeled these attributes through their lives. The religion in which I grew up held these attributes as its core spirituality even if I don’t necessarily recognize them in today’s practice. In my studies of world religions, differing but related renderings of these attributes of kindness can be found across the planet. While conducting workshops for The Good Decision, in introducing the concept of the Sense of Good, I have found that people, both secular and religious, very frequently held versions of these three attributes at the center of their first personal Sense of Good. The tragedy seems to be that individuals have trouble moving their versions of ‘good’ through the next two levels of their identity; community and public governance. I have read much commentary lately about how American culture struggles and fails in forgiveness, mercy, and grace. The Supreme Court decision this week brought it all home.

How can anyone celebrate a decision that only moves and magnifies a set quotient of pain and suffering for vulnerable women, children, and infants down the road? At the very least this is a deeply somber moment in our history. Once again it feels like we, as a national culture, have trapped ourselves in the language we use to forward our causes. As with the guns and violence issues, we have constrained ourselves in our simple, inarticulate memes leading to battles that both sides were predictably guaranteed to lose. Given what has happened, today’s obscene celebrations will become tomorrows ashes. The human race seems to never learn that when war looms, everyone has lost before the first lie is told or shot fired. In the end who in their quiet moments includes both ‘lying’ and the ‘acts of war’ in their first core “Sense of Good”?

In my professional life when people called me in to conduct this workshop on decision making, the problem to be addressed was almost always occurring at the moral-to-political level of decision making and the path out of conflict was never simple. Supervisors and managers had to set aside their understandable desire for an easy, instant solution and engage in the development of a new working vocabulary as well as strategy to help their employees find a legal solution to moral conflict. In the workshops I found the “Sense of Good ” exercises always seemed to unleash a joyous renewal of mission motivation for the organization. However, in the afternoon sessions, with the introduction of public responsibilities (“Sense of Democracy”), the joy was considerably diminished with the realization that conflict resolution and democracy invariably generate hard, hard work. Moral and political conflict can be resolved but from my experience I predict those critical core attributes of forgiveness, mercy, and grace are going to be needed, even in the most secular settings, to get our nation through today’s divisions if we hope to achieve what we ultimately call peace and justice. 

So no, The Good Decision and the Sense of Good are not just exercises in the denial of all that is bad, harmful, or evil. It is a discipline that wants to help you find and then move from your inner better self (or soul) through to your family and community narrative to achieve first level of peace making. The discipline then continues into your public self and invites you to set aside the divisive memes designed to help you leap over thus avoiding the central challenges of this age. Moving directly without preparation into the toxic political narrative of 2022 is simply reckless. The work of conflict resolution is the only work that can help us find the necessary vocabulary to forward our democratic nation toward a culture our children and grandchildren can live in.

The spiral of violence I feel coming for America is one in which we all cling to the memes that lead us into irreconcilable conflict. War conducted at the level of language and conversation sails a hair’s breadth from war conducted with bullets. I already hear public legislators discussing violence as if it were perhaps a justifiable option in the service of their personal memes. We are doing the first round of a circling process that could violently spiral us right out of our democracy. There is no reverse on the decisions made this week by our Supreme Court. What is next is up to us as individuals local communities and public persons. Let’s pause and prepare to do the work of peace and justice which just might need the power of forgiveness, mercy, and grace to move us forward.

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