Why I Need to Forgive Those Like the Then-Me

Photo by Khara Woods on Unsplash

There’s something you should know. I’m part of that generation that’s into deconstructing the thinking patterns, power structures and unquestioned norms.

Blame it on generational sociology. Blame it on whichever scapegoat your camp prefers. But the apparent pattern of building, enjoying, questioning and undoing places mine in the latter most.

As one who grew up with a worldview influenced by an English-Puritan approach to American history, Manifest Destiny and a Reagan-like telling of a nation being a city on a hill — divorced from the Middle Eastern roots where such an image first arose — there is a healthy place for some deconstruction.*

— *This is distinct from the ideology of deconstructionism. —

I grew up with an implicit understanding that if employees started to make-up more than one pigment in the full-scale spectrum of color, it was a preliminary sign of neighborhood change. Yet from elementary school on, my circle of friends included people of color.

See, I didn’t possess a prejudice toward interpersonal relationships, but I still ascribed unknowingly to a prejudiced bias toward a collective, nameless, faceless expression of people unlike me. There is a healthy place for some deconstruction, to discover the vantage point of history-telling, to pull on the string of thinking that has knotted one’s perception of society.

There’s also an unhealthy deconstructing. One that essentially takes me out of the story, like erasing all the paragraphs that have come before and starting this post with a blank slate. It’s as harmful as the dominantly-constructed viewpoint we are attempting to deconstruct.

The former two foster openness, repentance and clarity. The latter quickly replaces such traits with bitterness and judgment, unaware that the splinters I still possess are remnants of the same plank I now insist is deplorable in others.

To question is a needed element in society. Similar to the reports of increased diagnoses of asthma from “extra clean” homes found growingly in Western society due to its obsession with sterilizing everything (that’s a whole ‘nother entry on how that transcends just microbes and viruses), there are unintended consequences from the lack of opportunity for one’s own immune system to defend itself.

A lack of one’s ability to be introduced to diverse ideas inflates the likelihood for one to be receptive to outside forces or influences. Saudi Arabia is experiencing this very phenomenon as their youth attend non-Arabian universities and are introduced to myriads of concepts and a space to question, when their entire upbringing leaves no room to question.

The very proponents of protecting oneself from the “world at large” are ironically perpetuating a loss to whatever they’re attempting to protect from. Clearly then, the way forward is neither a space sterilized of differing opinions nor of the currently upheld belief systems like those within which I grew up.

At the same time though, the way forward is neither the then-me nor just the now-me. White fragility* is often most expressed within the very demographic that thinks it isn’t fragile: the ones deconstructing everything.

— *White fragility is the tendency for those from the majority culture (in the US, this is the Caucasian population) to react defensively to a small amount of stress brought about by concepts espoused from those on the margins or of a demographic outside the majority power structures (in the US, people of color). —

From that definition, you can begin to see where I am getting at; but if not, I will avoid a Millennial tendency and share from my own experience.

I work in a community whose majority are New Americans, refugees who have forcefully fled their home country due to threat against their lives from political, religious or ethnic affiliations. The narrative of a refugee leaves no party in the world immune from a place of blame.

“Christians” have ousted Muslims in Bosnia. “Muslims” routed Christians and Yazidis in Iraq. “Hindus” did to Muslims in Myanmar. State atheism targeted Christians, Muslims and Hindus in Cambodia. To name just a few.

This hasn’t been the only factor in deconstructing some previously held beliefs, but it has been one that has for the last five years been the most influential. So, you can understand the difficulty I have experienced with the onslaught of travel bans and policies that have gutted the refugee program installed since President Ronald Reagan put it into effect in the early 1980s.

Although not the only proponent, President Donald Trump has been a primary catalyst. A catalyst that 81 percent of the same demographic I grew up with voted for.

Going home then, whether consciously or not, there was a sense of being the “other.” And statistically speaking, in a room of 10, there might only be one other person who agreed with my way of thinking.

Here’s where my white fragility kicked in: Most of the time, I didn’t see myself in the other 81 percent. I resented the eight in the room.

I wrote, posted from afar and then simmered when visiting. I assumed the worst, and that assumption expanded like a poison wherever I went.

Absent from that entire period in my life was a remembering that the then-me is the same person I was now frustrated with. I forgot that I was the one who, upon President Barack Obama elected, sounded like a scene from George Lucas’ Star Wars:

No different than the doomsayers who painted an America other than President Trump in office, like a scene from Walter M. Miller Jr.’s Canticles of Leibowitz. No different than the Skittle illustrators who oversimplified a complex reality with refugee resettlement.

My fragility created a defensiveness of repressing memories of the then-me, whenever I interacted with similar viewpoints in the present. Whether they realize it or not, others who deconstruct to the point of forgetting their own formative narrative are doing the same.

A way forward is forgiveness coupled with acceptance. Starting with the ongoing acceptance that my then-self needed as much forgiveness as the now-“enemy” I have labeled.

Those pushed to the margins have much to speak to my generation’s ongoing white fragility that erases our own narratives of realization. For they have witnessed and been victim to the dominant structures of thinking and storytelling, yet never took themselves out from the playwright.

Their journey enhances their voice, and my Millennial venting that ignores my own journey lessens and muffles their own patience and forgiveness for one like me who adhered to and promoted the same structures that oppressed them.

My oppression of thinking can never compare with the literal isolation that same thinking caused others. It’s not a comparison game; it’s just reality.

That’s the acceptance. The acceptance of the reality. The acceptance that this reality is complex, messy and hard. The acceptance that I am part of this narrative.

There’s the forgiveness. The forgiveness in the ways others are still enslaved to it, often unknowingly like I once was too. The forgiveness for the oversimplifications and petty arguments. The forgiveness for the part I and others play in the narrative.

The synergy of these two can be breathtaking. It increases our capacity to breathe in the circumstances, knowing I can never cease to be white. And I do more harm in my attempts to do so (e.g., concepts like colorblindness, where one proposes forgetting race and color to just see we are humans — another example of white fragility when faced with the myth of race, which has severely impacted several centuries of world cultures).

There will always be more to forgive as long as humans continue to create history. This isn’t hiding from responsibility; it is being honest. But, forgiveness invites understanding and accepting each other’s limitations as now-me, each other’s narratives from then-me, and the masterpiece available when the spectrum is embraced and the washing out is forgiven.

A hopeful, but honest, future-us.

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Lane Lareau

Lane Lareau

Husband, dad, peacemaker, storyteller || Empowering spaces for flourishing || He/him