“We are a divided nation,” Donald Trump repeats again and again. And then he makes plans to divide us still further: registration of Muslims. Stop and frisk policing. Massive racialized screening and deportation. Trump leans on the support of white nationalists who would like to make us “undivided” by eliminating anyone who isn’t white and Christian. Even many of his less extreme supporters seem to feel like the only reliable way for us all to get along is for us to be more alike, not just in our basic political commitment to constitutional democracy, but in the specifics of our cultural habits, religious practice, and lifeways.
I am convinced that we do not have to be alike to get along, and to be friends and community for one another. I share the liberal optimism that our cultural diversity is a major strength of our nation.
And yet, when I look at my Facebook feed full of smart and generally justified cultural criticism, demonstrating the myriad ways in which well-meaning liberals don’t fully “get” sexism, racism, disability issues, etc., I worry a bit. I don’t disagree with it; heck, I’ve written some of it. I am just concerned that those of us who are optimistic about a multicultural society are not doing the best job modeling how we can all get along.
Today is the Day of Atonement in the Jewish calendar. As a Catholic, I admire the Jewish tradition of atonement and repentance. I confess my sins privately to God at the beginning of mass. That can feel like the easy way out compared to apologizing directly to the people I’ve hurt.
If we’re going to have a successful multicultural and integrated society, though, we are going to need to be good at both atonement and forgiveness.
I would like to observe this Day of Atonement by recalling and apologizing for the times that I cluelessly and thoughtlessly offended my friends’ religious practices, racial and cultural identities, and parenting choices. I have many friends who are quite differently than me, so I have a lot of opportunities to mess up and make stupid assumptions. I am often not sure how to take it back, or make it better. I hope those I have hurt will forgive me, and give me a chance to learn from my mistakes.
I also would like to apologize for the times that I have been impatient, snarky, or sarcastic toward people who had good intentions, and said something I found annoying or hurtful simply because they did not understand my experience or my perspective. I care about creating community, and I can do better with patience and good will.
I really believe in a liberal society, and my life is richer and wiser for the stories and perspectives and friendship of my diverse community. In these politically and cultural divisive times, I hope we can find in ourselves shared values of atonement, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is how we will show a way forward that genuinely makes room in our nation for everyone.