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If You Want Healing, Get Off My Bike

Do we, as a people, want the events of January 6th to be seen by history as the beginning of national healing, or will we allow it to be the start of an even worse time of division and violence in our nation?

Attorney David Schoen, representing and defending former President Donald Trump, talks to reporters as members of former US President Donald Trump's legal defense team arrive prior to the start of opening arguments in the impeachment trial of Trump, on charges of inciting the deadly attack on the US Capitol, in Washington,DC on February 10, 2021. (Photo by JOSHUA ROBERTS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Attorney David Schoen, representing and defending former President Donald Trump, talks to reporters as members of former US President Donald Trump's legal defense team arrive prior to the start of opening arguments in the impeachment trial of Trump, on charges of inciting the deadly attack on the US Capitol, in Washington,DC on February 10, 2021. (Photo by JOSHUA ROBERTS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

As the CEO of the Association for Conflict Resolution, I led a delegation of 50 mediators to South Africa to study the work of their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We were told that Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu frequently referenced a story that defined their work. Sadly, it is eerily relevant to our current challenges. He was reported to say, “If I’m riding down the street on my bicycle and you punch me in the face and take the bike, you can’t ask for my forgiveness while still sitting on my bike.”

Much work remains, but South Africa did make real progress healing the nation after apartheid ended. This required not only the leadership of figures like Tutu and Nelson Mandela, but also the brave actions of large numbers of people whose names will not go down in history, but whose actions paved the way forward. 

Do we, as a people, want the events of January 6th to be seen by history as the beginning of national healing, or will we allow it to be the start of an even worse time of division and violence in our nation?

The decision of how we move forward must be made by each of us, but it can and should be informed by the painful learned experience of others who have gone through turbulent times. 

If the vast majority view the attack on the Capitol as fundamentally wrong, we have an opportunity to create the change this moment requires. That change will not be easy; it will not come from the top down. As with most deep and lasting social change, we, the people must decide. 

Will we allow ourselves to get numb to the pain of political violence (as we have with the structural violence built into our system) or will we learn from the experience of others and act boldly to find a path to a peaceful and just future?

We have had too many wake up calls to count, yet we still remain mostly asleep at the wheel even as we careen towards even greater tragedies. From school shootings becoming commonplace to Charlottesville, to the Tree of Life, we have found ways to learn to live with levels of violence and hatred that we should never have gotten used to. 

Will we allow ourselves to get numb to the pain of political violence (as we have with the structural violence built into our system) or will we learn from the experience of others and act boldly to find a path to a peaceful and just future?

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Some have likened this moment to Kristalnacht, the 1938 night of broken glass, in Nazi Germany. What would it have taken for that horrible night to have been a turning point for the better? It would have eventually required deep healing - but first accountability. Can we pause the prosecution of those who committed the hideous acts of violence until we first hold accountable those who told the big lie and urged on their supporters to attempt to undermine our democracy?  

If Senators on both sides would listen to the evidence and make their judgments based solely on that evidence then we might find a path to healing. None of us should expect that “he who shall remain shameless” will repent or that those who enabled and profited off his reign will come out publicly and ask for forgiveness. Many religious traditions teach us that repentance must come before reconciliation. First, get off my bike.

Sadly it appears that the forces that brought us to this point are not embarrassed and seeking forgiveness. Instead, many feel that the attack on the Capitol was some kind of sick success and are already using it to recruit new adherents to their hateful ideology. 

Can we both be true to our deeply held values and open to those who view the world quite differently than we do? If we are going to build a better future, it will require a different approach to our opponents. It is hard because the other side has been so vilified they are not seen as fully human or like “us.” While there are no doubt some who are truly unredeemable haters, we’ve got to believe that most have been cynically manipulated by those who do not have their best interest at heart. 

Too many people have been sold a lie that all we have to cling to is our grievance against someone not like me. History makes clear that a divide and conquer strategy is often used to maintain an unjust and brutal status quo. It keeps people who have more in common with each other fighting so that those in power can maintain that power while all sides suffer. 

Powerful, time-tested and well-researched tools of creative conflict resolution, restorative justice, peacebuilding, citizen education, and cross cultural communication can help us begin to truly heal. It will not be easy but we can rise to the challenges before us. To do so, we must be willing to learn from the experience of others.

David Hart

David Hart

David Hart is the co-director of Nonviolence International. He was the chief executive officer of the Association for Conflict Resolution and Director of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Mediation Program at the Key Bridge Foundation. David has served as executive director of local, state and national nonprofit organizations, including Veterans for Peace. He can be reached at: info@nonviolenceinternational.net

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