Embracing Ourselves (3)

This is the third and last in a series of posts under the same general title.

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In general, the question I want to ask is: How do we embrace ourselves in our entirety? Specifically, I want to ask this question: How can we embrace not just those parts of ourselves we are proud of, and would like to be known by, but also—and especially—those parts of ourselves we are not proud of, and would not like to be known by?

How the Question Specifies Us

What projections are to us all individually, scapegoats are to us all collectively: the parts of ourselves we are continuing to disown. In that regard, the challenge to embrace ourselves entirely is the same for us all, both individually and collectively. It is the challenge of re-claiming or re-owning, which is to say, re-owning-up-to, those parts of ourselves we strive so consistently to disown. Only through such “reclamation” can we even genuinely lay claim to all of ourselves, and thereby become at last whole.

Only so, for instance (to use one of my own communities as an example again), can the United States of America become in reality, for the very first time ever, what it has for so long laid claim to being in its “Pledge of Allegiance”: one nation, indivisible. Indeed, for the United States or any other community, it is only insofar as we allow ourselves fully to be called into question by and in our own genuinely asking how we can embrace ourselves in our entirety, that there is any hope for someday actually doing just that: embracing ourselves in our entirety.

My specific focus in this series of posts, to repeat again, is on how we can cease disowning those among us who, although acting in our name and under our authority, commit deeds that bring dishonor upon us, shaming us. It is the question of how we can at last stop making scapegoats out of just such members of our community. How we can finally stop loading all of our collective sins on them as individuals, and then driving them out of our midst and into the wilderness, carrying all our sins with them—or so, at least, would we like to believe?

We can do so only by really asking that question of ourselves, and thereby experiencing ourselves as called into question. That happens when we experience ourselves called to confess contrition for the sins of those who, in our name and under our authority, commit shameful deeds. Only thus do we own up to our sins as truly ours, owning up to them as our own sins and, accordingly, accepting responsibility for repenting of what we have done through those we have called into our service, then sent out in our name and under our authority, and who have then committed crimes and atrocities. Only by such acceptance of our own responsibility, which most especially entails accepting the need to atone for what we have done through such instruments pressed into our service, can we ever reclaim the disowned parts of ourselves collectively—and become, at last, who we really are.

Such communal acts of confession, repentance, and atonement can and should include, to mention only one crucial thing, a dimension of ritual communal observance. In the United States, for instance, just as we have officially set aside such days of remembrance as Veterans Day or Memorial Day for honoring the memory of those who have served and even died “under arms” for this country, so might we set aside other days of remembrance for expressing contrition for the atrocities that have far too often been committed by those we have so placed “under arms.”

We could set aside December 29 for such a purpose, for example, to mark the day in 1890 that United States troops massacred American Indian men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Or we might set aside March 16, the date on which the My Lai massacre in Vietnam took place in 1968. Or we could choose any of the regrettably large number of other dates that mark atrocities committed by United States troops enacting national policies. We could set aside at least one day, if not a number of days, as days of national confession, contrition, and atonement.

On such a day we could practice embracing ourselves in our entirety, disowning none of us.