America Today: Tony Brussat
My friend Tony Brussat wrote this, and while not written from a “Christian” perspective, I think it is applicable to a range of belief systems….
There is a concept called moral injury, which provides a good sense for understanding the unrest we feel in America today. Moral injury is often used with regard to the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. But moral injury does not just occur on the battlefield; it occurs every day in the human landscape, throughout the world.
It is not just those who witness or perpetrate moral injury that suffer because of it; their children do too. As I shall explain, just as trauma can (epigenetically) be carried from one generation to the next, so can moral injury.
Those who suffer with moral injury respond to it just like those who suffer from trauma, with addiction and denial. Addiction and denial may help us escape the pain, but they also can prevent us from living up to our deeper, or higher, values. For instance, addiction (whether to drugs or sugar) may destroy health; denial may result in anger. So it comes about that poor blacks are disproportionally affected by coronavirus, while privileged whites feel anger when asked to admit that Black Lives Matter.
Actually, what many whites feel (and blacks, too) is resentment, not anger. The only difference between anger and resentment is that anger is rooted in what has been done to us while resentment is the result of what we have done to ourselves (i.e., our own poor choices). But both anger and resentment are classic ways of avoiding painful truths. Obviously, there is collective, white guilt because of the unequal structures of our economic, political and social systems. It is hard to be willfully ignorant of these, but willful ignorance is a historically effective method of denial.
However, there is also this epigenetic sensitivity to moral injury which causes pain in all of us. (In the debate between nature and nurture, epigenetic explains how lived experience can affect whether certain genes are turned on or off at certain, crucial stages of our growth. Thus, nurture can adversely affect nature in powerful ways, and these “epigenetic” problems can last several generations.) Second or third-generational sensitivity to moral injury is harder to “fix” because the same economic, political and social systems that create moral injury (and trauma) thrive upon our need to escape from the suffering they cause. Indeed, whether black or white, the human landscape has become an awful cycle of trauma and moral injury, moral injury and trauma.
Our economic, political and social systems encourage addiction of all varieties — not just drugs and alcohol, but to the consumerism and the Big Dopamine distractions which also provide escape from deeply painful, negative truths. There is trauma and moral injury enough for all, and today, with the fateful confluence of covid and George Floyd, both anger and resentment are erupting in our homes and on the streets. The fact is that some of the stories we tell ourselves may be justified (I have been hurt) while some may not be (I didn’t hurt you).
Whether our personal suffering comes from trauma or moral injury, if we can’t embrace the truths buried within them, we shall remain slaves to them. As Desmond Tutu wrote: “Until we can forgive, we remain locked in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of being at peace.”
Only forgiveness will enable us to move toward greater values. For instance, the ideas in our founding documents, such as freedom, equality, and justice are greater than the flag which merely stands for them.
We need to forgive ourselves as well as others, too. There is a lot of apologizing which needs to occur.