It’s taken some soul-searching, but I’ve come to a tough realization about my sense of self and place and my attitudes toward my fellow nations. “Soapbox” doesn’t even begin to describe the platform from which I’ve declared my moral supremacy over the years. My approach to diplomacy and world politics has been rooted in a bit of unsubstantiated self-righteousness, and I want to apologize. In a rare moment of self-reflection I took stock of my words and behaviors directed toward my global peers, and I became ashamed at the hypocrisy from which I’ve preached.
I shook my head at the ridiculousness of racial conflicts in Yugoslavia and the horrific acts of “ethnic cleansing” knowing full well that I pretty much wrote the book on the colonial displacement and dispossession of indigenous people. I also pointed my shaming finger at South Africa for its civil rights abuses – less than three decades removed from my own system of apartheid – with no real acknowledgment of the three fingers pointing back at me. I look down my nose at Islamic societies’ disenfranchisement of women at the exact moment that I make it damn near impossible for women to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to dominion over their own bodies. And, just this month I decried Russia’s homophobic legislation only one month after (barely) dismantling my own anti-gay federal laws. Just a few years ago, some of my citizens faced the real prospect of criminal charges for having adult, consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes, and here I am condemning a nation for disallowing public expression.
This honesty doesn’t mean that I don’t have a real problem with many of the practices and policies carried out by my fellow nation states. Wrong is wrong. But I’m realizing now that my approach has been of the “stones in glass houses/pot-kettle” variety. So, while I have always believed that it is my duty to speak out against injustices beyond my borders, I’m just now beginning to understand that it is my responsibility to acknowledge my own culpability, complicity, and crimes while doing so.
So, what I want to tell you now – as the perpetrator of many of the biggest and most sustained crimes against people and planet – is that there is a way forward. Every time I made a decision to try and remedy a wrong, to fix something that I broke, there was great benefit to my entire citizenry. When I stopped rationalizing an injustice and stopped fearing the consequences of change, things actually got better. This is the lesson I’d like to share.
No more preaching and no more yelling. No one has done more messing up than I have, and there are still a lot of things I need to work on. In fact, even as I write this, I’m finding new and creative ways of undoing fixes – moving from “wrong” to “almost right” and back to “wrong” again. I play fast and loose with treaties, and after slowly doling out suffrage rights to finally include all citizens, I recently put the stamp of approval on the tactics of my municipalities that seek to turn back the hands of time. I’m even doing the latter while declaring (without irony) that Egypt doesn’t seem up to the challenge of democracy.
It is an ignorance-driven compulsion; a strange attempt at self-protection against the fantasy of an entity that I foolishly believe will destroy the order of things. The journey for me is ever unfolding, and it is surely not a straight line. I can’t seem to help but take a step backwards for every two steps I take forward. I am hoping, however, that this honest look at my progress and regression will not only help me move more decidedly forward but also position me as a resource for you and not the self-appointed judge and jury I’ve been in the past.
Please let me know if I can share the details of my ongoing quest to acknowledge my own wrongs and my attempts at reparative justice. The examples listed above are but a taste of the many gains and setbacks I’ve experienced. I promise to step down off of the soapbox, remove my unearned title as the greatest country on earth, fully acknowledge my history, be more honest about my internal struggle with the idea of true justice, and engage you as a peer and not as a child. We all have a lot to learn. Let’s do it together.