Category Archives: Ethics

Reflections on ANZAC Day

Today, on ANZAC day, I will be wearing a poppy badge as a sign of remembrance.

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on war over the past few months.

For a long time I have taken a position of pacifism. Many of the people who have inspired me most are those who have had the courage to actively resist war and militarism whether they be the conscientious objectors that demonstrated courageous sanity in the face of global madness in World War I and were prepared to face the full force of the law (often being sentenced to death) to do it, the masses of people who resisted the war in Vietnam or the Ploughshares Activists who break into military bases and weapons factories to disable the tools of death. I’ve heard similar views to my own described as Nonviolent Action. My position is not a passive position, it’s actively attempting to resolve conflicts with a belief that violence is never the best solution.

I never came to this position seeking to disrespect those who made a choice to join the military. My ancestry includes people who fought in World War I. One of my great-great grandfathers was an Australian soldier who served at Gallipoli. After falling very ill at the front he was eventually discharged. Within months of his return, one of his sons signed up and went to the western front where he was wounded in the head during the Battle of Ypres. On my mother’s, side another great-grandfather, still really a child, was sent into the forests of Estonia armed with an axe and the orders to kill Germans. He would later serve in the Australian Air Force as an airplane mechanic in Townsville during World War II.

Both of Emily’s parents served in the US military and her family connections to the American military, as far back as we can tell, include someone who fought in the Battle of Machias, one of the first armed engagements of the American War for Independence. By no means do I speak for Emily in any of this (she can speak for herself), but I mention her family by way of honouring the experiences of people I know well and care about.

Currently, I have a cousin in Afghanistan with the Australian Army. It’s interesting. I’ve always been told that our personalities are very similar. One of us signed up for the Army, the other is filling in forms to ensure his status as a conscientious objector. I think about him often wondering what his experiences are like there. I bring with those thoughts all of the deep concern for peace and wholeness that have led me to be a pacifist. After all, it’s not soldiers I oppose, it’s what puts their lives at risk that I oppose.

Now I work at the Australian War Memorial store in Australia’s capitol. Thankfully the memorial’s approach to war avoids celebrating it. I do find myself uncomfortable with the attitudes of war as a fun adventure that I see from some kids, but then I also realize that those were my own attitudes at their age and that time, maturity, and education can make a lot of difference. I frequently come across members of different military services from around the world (so far including the US, Canada, Singapore, Israel, Indonesia and New Zealand) and have found myself reflecting on the reasons people join militaries. Very often they are for very noble reasons. (I may not agree with all of them, but I respect them as noble.)

What I have found as I explore my feelings on war is that I can maintain my opposition to violence and militarism and remain comfortable being supportive of those who have made different decisions. I do not necessarily agree with their choices, but I recognize that we all make our decisions based upon our varied understandings and life experiences.

War is an awful thing. ANZAC day is celebrated on the 25th of April because that is the date that, in 1915, the battle of Gallipoli began in Turkey. Gallipoli was a massive disaster. Thousands of lives were lost for no gain. Some suggest that Australia was founded on the shores of Gallipoli. I wouldn’t say that’s entirely the case, but in the disaster of that conflict I would like to think we learned something about the senselessness and horror of war and learned to be a little less trusting of those who would make the decision to send living, breathing, loving, and courageous people to die senseless deaths.

As I have spent a little bit of time researching my ancestors’ war history, I found a treasure trove of files and documents on the National Archives website (most of the World War I documents have been digitized and can be easily perused). Most poignant to me of the documents in the records was a letter one of my great-great-grandmothers wrote after hearing that her son had been wounded (they had told her basically nothing other than that he was wounded).

It’s not a very emotional letter at face value (perhaps filled with British restraint). But as I read the words “very anxious” I get a sense of the grave concern they had that they might never see their son again and that he would be lost in a blaze of mud, blood and chaos somewhere on the Western Front. Those words “very anxious” are very emotional. To me, this is what war is about.

So should conscription ever be reintroduced in Australia, you will find me with those burning their draft cards. But to those who go willingly, you have my respect and love. I will be resisting war, and will be very anxious for your safe return.

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Observations on Euthanasia: Humans and Non-humans

Interesting how ending someone’s life for medical reasons is viewed so differently depending on if they are human or non-human.

When they’re human, it’s “assisted suicide” and legal in only a handful of places (unless it is involuntary, which isn’t legal anywhere). Even when the one dying has made the choice to die, it’s taboo. Sometimes people say things like, “You’re playing God. Maybe they should pray more, then let God decide when it’s their time to die.”

When they’re non-human, it’s “putting them to sleep” and it’s legal everywhere. The one dying has no choice in it. It is seen as compassionate to end their suffering, and the humans involved are not viewed negatively or ridiculed, but comforted in their grieving or, for the vets, it’s just part of their job.

Sometimes the decision for death is partly informed by how much money proper care would cost. Sometimes that is the main reason for euthanizing an animal. Imagine if we decided whether or not a human should live based on how much it would cost to treat them and keep them alive.

Pesky Questions: Prayer, Personal Responsibility, and Pat Answers

A few weeks ago, Ricktopher and MLE were in a discussion group with a bunch of church people and the discussion topic was prayer. Everyone was asked to read a quote they were given on prayer and then say something about it if they so chose. Part of the evening went something like this:

Everyone else was saying how comforting prayer is, etc. and only citing positive examples of how prayer “works.” “You know, sometimes it seems like God’s not answering a prayer, but then one day, you’ll look back on it, and realize, ‘yeah, that was answered.’”

When it came to MLE’s turn, she said, “I struggle with prayer sometimes. What about the parent of a child who has a totally curable illness, but because they can’t afford to get them treatment, all they can do is pray? They pray, but the child dies anyway. Are they going to look back someday and say, “Woah, I totally get why my child died of that completely curable illness.”

Someone in the group responded, “Well, we often don’t know God’s ways; why he does what he does.”

MLE replied, “Is it really ‘God’s way’ for this to happen? Is this God’s justice and love? Or it is us humans, flagrantly misusing our agency? (This denomination’s big on personal agency.) (Okay, she may not have said, “flagrantly.”) Perhaps we are the ones not answering this parent’s prayer.”

Often, we don’t want to ask these questions. We’re comfortable in our complacency. But perhaps we’re called to more. Dodging self-examination and the tough questions don’t make them disappear, nor does it help those non-hypothetic people in the world who suffer like those in MLE’s hypothetical situation.

We do ourselves a disservice by trying to be, or at least appear, overly confident in our certainty. Sometimes, we don’t question because we don’t want to appear “weak in the faith.” How sad! Could it be that we cheat ourselves (and others) out of opportunities to explore our struggles with others?

Much can be gained from a rich prayer life, but what is a rich prayer life? Is prayer more than personal pep talks and/or complaints? Is it only for me and mine, with the vague cover all prayer for “peace on earth” or to “be with” or “bless everyone?” Are we ‘doing our part’ by praying; in a sense, releasing ourselves of our responsibilities? The “Well, I’ve done my part” approach.

Are our prayers for peace or for God to be with others any more effectual than those of the parent of that child?

Maybe instead of noncommittally praying for “the poor,” maybe we should ask to be made more mindful of how we can work to end poverty, then square our shoulders and roll up our sleeves.

Note: This post was prompted by a post from the nakedpastor about prayer. It includes a great cartoon featuring a person asking for showers from Heaven and getting so much water that they’re completely immersed. It’s a great post and blog. Check it out! (And, of course, that’s all his content, so please, don’t misuse the image or anything, guys. That’s just not cool.)

My Vegodicy: Thoughts, Ideas, and Experiences Which Have Informed My Decision to Go Meatless, Local, and More

To some, my decision to go vegetarian might seem sudden or somewhat out of the blue. To me, it’s a natural development of my thinking and lifestyle based on many encounters with people, animals, and ideas. What follows is some of those experiences. This is as much for myself as it is for anyone else as I try to honestly self-examine. (It might also be to out word count Ricktopher. No. Ok, maybe a tiny bit.)

Preteen MLE
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been especially drawn to animals. I loved watching the young frogs and insects in their various juvenile stages in the pond behind my parents’ house, and the occasional pair of ducks. I loved having pets. The intuition of my sister’s dog, Duke, as he would stay close to me when I was sick and seem genuinely concerned about me.

I vividly remember being on my parents’ bed, my Mom reading to me about the whole episode with Moses and the Israelites and Pharaoh’s chariots and horses. My main thought was, “How could God do that to those innocent horses? They didn’t choose to be used by Pharaoh’s armies.” I eyed God’s decision with incredulity. (Interestingly, I wasn’t as concerned for the Egyptians.)

At a summer camp at the Ziontario campgrounds in Canada, I watched in horror as a few children about my age threw tiny frogs at tree trunks for entertainment. I was livid. I’m pretty sure I yelled at them, but don’t quote me on that.

At some point before I was a teenager, I developed a disdain for fish tanks. They always make me a little sad. I always had this idea that despite what I was told, those lobsters did feel pain when they were boiled alive.

I despised circuses and rodeos. And while I did enjoy going to zoos, I always knew that those animals didn’t belong there. While they have better reputations than circuses and rodeos, zoos are typically more about making money than providing the best life experience possible for the animals in their care. Before I got the serious history bug at about age 12, I wanted to be a veterinarian (and president of the United States :D). I loved watching nature programs and bird watching.

Until recent years I didn’t think too much about how unusual it was for me to spend much of my birthday money every year on donations to World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and similar groups. I wondered why they sent so many mailings to me throughout the year; it all seemed so wasteful.

I remember thinking about vegetarians as kind of fringe people. I assumed they just didn’t like meat. I was like, “Ok, more meat for me!” I didn’t think about why they would choose to be vegetarians.

Paradox and Paradigm Shifts
When I was a child, despite having a love for animals, there were times when I would seek ways to dominate over our pets. I won’t go into details, but these unhealthy learned behaviors were something I hated in others yet did myself. (I don’t want to freak anyone out, I wasn’t lighting them on fire or anything, but I’m sure what I did to them made them feel bad.) When I was about 12 or 13, I had an epiphany during one such occasion. I realized just how awful I was being to these companions. I realized my treatment of them grew out of some anger issues and my desire to be in control. As embarrassing as this is, it’s important to mention because that realization has affected how I view my relationships with all beings, human and non-human. I wonder if the idea of humans having ‘dominion’ over animals is sometimes code for control. Far too often human control or management of animals is more for the benefit of humans at the expense of animals. I guess I’m channeling that need to control others into a challenge to self-control, and in the process, trying to atone for the sins of my youth.

Concern for how pets are treated and protection of eco-systems have been of great concern to me since I was a child. It wasn’t until I was in college, however, that I started to think seriously about how my life choices impact animals, my fellow humans, and the world we all inhabit. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I started learning about factory farming.

If these collective childhood experiences provided fertile soil, Stephen D. planted what I point to as the first seed of my exploration of how my eating choices impact the environment. Interestingly, Stephen and I weren’t exactly close in college. We didn’t see eye to eye on a number of things. We were, however, both part of the campus ministries team.

On one occasion, we met up at Pizza Hut to discuss something campus ministries related. We were going to share, and he asked if I minded getting a veggie pizza. My favorite Pizza Hut pizza is a pepperoni and black olive. I didn’t mind getting a veggie pizza, but I didn’t usually go out of my way to get one. I asked Stephen why he wanted to get a veggie pizza; I now wonder why I asked. He explained in a simple sentence or two that he chose to eat vegetarian because of the insane negative environmental impact of the meat industry. I said, “Oh,” having never given it much thought. That was it. It took a couple of years for me to be ready to expose myself to the truth of factory farming and big agribusiness, but along the way, I had an inkling that I would eventually end up like Stephen.

Never underestimate how powerful your actions, combined with a few little words, can be. I may have ended up here anyway, but that one witness of Stephen’s has literally changed not only my life, but the lives of the voiceless many for whom I try to advocate. (You can blame this all on Stephen.)

One of my last college courses was intro. to psych. I chose to research fast food advertising for my term paper. I read books like Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. I couldn’t help but read other chapters; the ones that talked about how farmers are in perpetual debt to the big companies and how most of their farms go under, or the ones that talked about the treatment of the animals and the workers who “care” for them.

I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle; though I was more struck by the plight of Jurgis and his family and fellow workers. I watched movies like Food, Inc.

The Tipping Point
For my birthday in early 2010, I asked for Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. (I also asked for Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness; an excellent book.) My parents got it for me (so you can also blame them, too). I had passed by this book day after day as I worked at Barnes & Noble, and with each passing, I asked, “Why do we treat these animals differently? What happens in our minds and in our cultures to categorize animals into categories of “food” or “companion” or “clothing”? I devoured it in a single night.

After reading this book, I knew that I would eventually stop eating meat. It just changed me. For me, it truly was a transformative text. (Ok, now I’m thinking about scripture and what defines a text as scripture. This text has been more life-changing for me than lots of biblical passages. Interesting to think about.) It was hard not to share quotes and ideas with Ricktopher and others. I tried to balance sharing my new understandings–caring as I did and do about what they put in their bodies (antibiotics, growth hormones, etc.) and knowing them to be caring people–with the reality that not everyone wants to know where their food comes from and what suffering might be involved (both human and animal) in that burger they just enjoyed. I still struggle with this.

I didn’t want to push Ricktopher to read what I read or to share my convictions. I wanted him to learn when it was the right time for him; when he was ready. When we lived in Ohio, Ricktopher and I considerably reduced our meat intake. He still liked his meat. We compromised by being more intentional about how our meat was cared for. We tried to buy free range eggs and grass finished cow. (It’s good to look for “grass finished” on the label. It is my understanding that all cows are fed grass for a period in their youth, but then most are switched to revolting dross for the bulk of their miserable lives. These companies can then say, “Grass fed!” and people will pay more.) I was squeamish about it, but I figured it was an improvement. It was at this time that I read (a good chunk of) John Robbins’ Diet for a New America. (Thanks to my Mom for the recommendation.) Despite its failings, I gained an appreciation of why someone would choose to refrain from consuming all animal products; foregoing dairy and eggs (and even things like fish oil).

This Past Year
When we lived in Ohio, we hardly ate with others, so it was much easier to rarely eat meat. When we moved to Idaho, we spent a few weeks eating out with others, eating in relatives’ homes. I struggled with questions like, “How can I not reject someone’s hospitality or avoid annoying the waiter when I always ask for ‘______, but without the bacon…’ while not compromising my morals?” I still struggle with this. I don’t want to be the one who complicates where the group eats. As much as I want to educate, I likewise don’t want to make people equate eating with MLE with feeling bad about that turkey they just ordered. (Ok, I kind of do, but you get what I mean.) I didn’t want to be ‘the vegetarian’ in the family–the quirky, hippie relative who prompts people to think, “She thinks I’m a bad person for eating meat;” the one we put up with. We ate meat. Probably more than we had in the previous six months combined. But I knew better, and my conscience was gnawing at me.

More recently, I’ve read books like Marc Bekoff’s The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons to Expand Our Compassion Footprint. I’ve been toying with the idea that eating locally sourced foods is better for the environment than going vegetarian. Surely, right? Not according to a study Bekoff cites. He says,

In fact, when comparing the relative environmental impact of being a vegetarian versus being a ‘locavore,’ a 2008 study at Carnegie Mellon University found that ‘foregoing red meat and dairy just one day a week achieves more greenhouse gas reductions than eating an entire week’s worth of locally sourced foods. That’s because the carbon footprint of food miles is dwarfed by that of food production. In fact, 83 percent of the average U.S. household’s carbon footprint for food consumption comes from production; transportation represents only 11 percent; wholesaling and retailing account for 5 percent.’ It’s been calculated that the carbon footprint of meateaters is almost twice that of vegetarians.

My big reason for not eating meat is that I can’t justify killing another sentient being so that I can enjoy eating their flesh. Physically, I don’t need to eat meat. I have to be more deliberate about what I eat, to make sure I’m getting the proper nutrients, and in this respect, I’m probably more mindful of what I eat than ever before.

Being vegetarian is hard. It requires discipline. Ricktopher has been a huge blessing to me. He’s my accountability buddy. We’ve both had times where we’ve said, “Oh, that sounds so good right now,” or “they don’t seem to have anything here that doesn’t come with meat, let’s just order a cheeseburger.” Thankfully, in some of our weaker moments, we’ve been there for each other, just in case our consciences fail to override the temptations.

One thing that’s surprised me, though, is how easy it’s been. I thought I’d have cravings, like I’d go into meat withdrawal, and that’s just not happened. I thought I’d somehow be ‘hungry all the time.’ Not happened. As when I ate meat, I often get full with food left over. One thing that has changed is that I don’t feel that gross feeling I often got when eating meat, especially fatty or greasy meals.

I’d like to eventually go vegan, but for now, this is where I’m at.

And finally, one of my favorite passages of scripture, a vision of peace from Isaiah ch. 11:

6The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the
hole of the asp,
9They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the
knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Why I Stopped Eating Meat

I love meat. Most of my favourite food experiences have included meat of some variety, whether it be the chicken, mutton and other meats used in the curries I ate in India, the delicious barbecue pork I’ve had amongst Americans or the amazing flavours of the Brazillian churascos. I see meat eaten every day, and I want it.

The thing about vegetarianism is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t enjoy meat, and that you don’t want it – you just choose not to give into that temptation.

I’m learning to recognize my cravings for what they are: my stomach saying “feed me” and my thoughts turning to foods I have become used to craving at such times. 90+% of the time, I find that a delicious vegetarian dish will be every bit as satisfying by the time that I’m done eating, even if I had been craving meat before that.

My journey to vegetarianism has seemed somewhat abrupt, but has been coming for a while. For over a year now I’ve become more and more interested in what industrial farming has done to our food. There was a big part of me that did not want to know, because it might lead to a seemingly large sacrifice.
MLE read all of the books we had purchased on the subject. I shared her enthusiasm for the subject hesitantly – enough to know a lot of bad stuff was going on, but not really prepared to delve into it. I has horrified at the things she described, but guiltily wanted her to stop telling me.
To reassure myself, I began to take the position that we should avoid factory farmed meats and buy from local food sources. We’re poor, and the idea of spending an extra few dollars per pound of meat seemed daunting at first, but when you consider that the average Australian/American eats much more meat than they need to, we figured we’d eat better and eat less.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a good approach. It recognizes the cruelty and injustice inherent in the industrial farming system where big corporations are willing to sacrifice animal and human well-being for profit (a great introduction to this is the movie Food Inc). I know a lot of people who take this approach and their diets are undoubtedly better for doing it.

What helped me to make the decision to stop eating meat altogether was a conversation with MLE (who urged me to consider the matter further) which led to me reading the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Not only was this my first step into learning the grotesque details of factory farming, but it asked the question: What goes on in the human mind to make one animal a pet and another animal food?
It describes the dominant philosophical approach to the question as “Carnism” and compares it to patriarchy in that it is a position so ubiquitous within society we don’t readily recognize it. As science leads us to understand that there are few nutrients that we can get from meat alone, the slaughter of billions of lives every year has become unnecessary.

I began discussing the questions I was dealing with on facebook and received some useful feedback. It was helpful to understand that plants can also suffer, and to see it from the perspective that all life relies on the destruction of other life for its survival. In the end though, I came to the conclusion that while plant life can suffer, animals can think and build relationships and experience emotion (including the terror of impending death).

I have taken this step as an act of faith. Consistency of action with belief has been something I have admired greatly in others, and I have decided to pursue it myself. As my beliefs cause me to grieve over the suffering that exists in the world, I need to live a life that reduces that suffering and promotes the most good.

On top of this, I have learned more about what it is to sacrifice. I have sacrificed most of my favourite foods for a greater good. I have recognized that the life within a cow, a chicken, a pig or a fish carries more worth to me than eating those foods. I also now take more time to recognize that whatever I eat causes the end of something’s life. In doing that, in preparation for eating I prayerfully recognize that a sacrifice of life has been made, that I might have strength and life to do some good in the world. I figure that if my life is going to be extended by the killing of other life, I had better not live wastefully.

This is also the most counter-cultural thing I’ve ever done in my life. It has really brought to me a sense of being ‘in the world, but not of it’. There is a certain awkwardness that comes with eating vegetarian. Most restaurants do not cater to you with more than a couple of dishes. There is also a noticeable difference between how people respond to your food choices. When you eat a non-meat dish without identifying as vegetarian it’s no big deal. For some, it seems like my choice to eat that same dish becomes more threatening when I identify myself as vegetarian.
I have greatly appreciated the support where we have received it, but have been somewhat surprised as some people just seem to wish we would be “normal” again.

Overall, I’ve found it to be one of the most worthwhile and meaningful decisions I have made. I understand the impact of my daily life with increased clarity, and it has felt like a major step toward becoming the more consistent Christian I have long intended to be.

Most of the people I have talked to about where meat comes from recognize that there are some terrible things that go on in meat production, as I have. Many don’t want to know the details because it would cost them the enjoyment of treasured foods, as I did.
I encourage you to learn the facts. Ignoring problems don’t make them go away. For those who choose to eat meat, I encourage you to find local sources of meat and animal products (in America Local Harvest is a great source). Most of us could eat less and eat better.

When you come across vegetarians, be supportive – chances are they are taking a difficult action based upon deeply held beliefs.

Grace:
Creator of all,
We give thanks for the miracle of life and honour the life sacrificed in the preparation of our meal.
May we eat giving thanks, committing to use the energy and life we draw from this sacrifice for the good of the world, that we might create with you a world in which your gifts to us are honoured always.

Amen.

Ethical Eating–What We Consume, What We Waste

[Some thoughts from a recent conversation.]

MLE’s been a self-labeled “pizza crust snob” for most of her life; unless it tasted especially good, it went in the compost, or far more likely, in the bin. She’s been trying to change that as part of her effort to be more mindful of what she eats and to waste less.

Other thoughts on food snobbery and wastefulness came up in our discussion. What about:

  • Eating something else because you just don’t feel like what’s available and needs to be eaten sooner and thus, what needed to be eaten goes off.
  • Throwing away the ends of a loaf of bread (the heels) or cutting off the crusts.
  • Not buying a can of food because it has a dent in it or the label has a tear.
  • Neglecting to follow the adage, “Take what you need and eat what you take.”
We’re not trying to preach here (we’ve done each of the things listed above), and of course, this list certainly isn’t exhaustive. But it’s something to think about. What’s so awful about eating the heel of a loaf of bread? Maybe try not cutting off the crusts, eat the heel, eat the pizza crust and be thankful. Be thankful and yet also mindful; not only of those who don’t have even a bread heel to eat, but mindful also of the whole process of how that bread (or pizza crust, or whatever) got to the point where you are now presented with the option of eating it.

The Perils of Over-Thinking a Newsbyte

I was listening to BBC World News on NPR on my way to pick up Ricktopher from work, when I heard something about corrupt people in some African country taking food aid and then selling it; with much of it never reaching those in need. (Ok, I was half listening–I think it was about people loyal to Gbagbo.) I thought a vague image of something akin to, “there’s a hot place in Hell for them.”

I immediately kicked into over-analyzing. I started thinking about personal and corporate guilt, sin, and apologies. About just how many others might be culpable in those sordid transactions. It is indeed complex.

I think, too, about my (and our) culpability and responsibility to right action. Granted, it might take a lot of clicks on wikipedia pages to get from Gbagbo to little ol’ MLE, but I’m thinking more in generalities, as in: Which of my actions (and inactions–yes, a misnomer) help perpetuate injustice and suffering in the world? And, how do I rectify these things?

In his Terra Nullius: A Journey Through No One’s Land, Sven Lindqvist recounts his experiences travelling through Australia visiting sites that highlight significant aspects and events in the interactions between Aboriginal and white Australian cultures. He bookends this volume with a discussion of corporate, or communal contrition. He reflects on the experience of a high school teacher beginning each lesson by asking, “‘What constitutes contrition?'” Lindqvist and the other students would then answer:

“I realize I have done wrong.
I regret what I have done.
I promise never to do it again.”

Lindqvist argues that this is far too insular, too easily taken back, and that it offers “precious little comfort to the victim of the wrong I committed.” He suggests this alternative wording:

“I freely admit that I have done wrong.
I ask forgiveness of those I have wronged.
I promise to do my best to make amends to them.”

What really intrigues me are Lindqvist’s ideas on communal contrition. He asks, “Can we feel contrition for other people’s crimes? Can we feel contrition for crimes we have not committed personally, but have subsequently profited from? How can we formulate the criteria for contrition to make them applicable to collective responsibility for historical crimes?”

Lindqvist offers a reworking of the personal contrition statement for communal application:

“We freely admit that our predecessors have done wrong and that we are profiting from it.
We ask forgiveness of those who were wronged and of their descendants.
We promise to do our best to make amends to those who were wronged for the effects that still remain.”

And perhaps as a cautionary note, he adds, “The larger the collective, the more diluted the personal  responsibility. the less intimate the contrition, the greater the risk that it will just be hollow ceremony. A representative steps forward on our behalf, admits the wrong committed, apologizes, pays what it takes and appoints a committee to ‘monitor our practices.'” As an aside, it’s interesting to note what has and hasn’t been done or changed or what have you, in Australia since the government formally said “Sorry” in 2008.

(Maybe I shouldn’t just visualize black Africans in camouflage, but people of other colors, people with money to gain from war, people like me who sip their lattes and don’t consider themselves warmongers, but undeniably benefit from being born rich.) As Lindqvist says, just like there is national debt, so to are there national assets, and I’ve inherited some serious assets.

As I wait for Ricktopher to come out, I think about my initial reaction, it’s understandable, simplistic as it is. We want the bad guys to get their comeuppance, right? But I’m ashamed of how outraged I didn’t feel. It’s like, “Oh, that’s awful…oh, here’s another bit of news.” I’d like to think that if you and yours and me and mine were starving someone would think more than that, feel more than that about our situation.

It reminds me of Peter Singer’s example discussing what we do with our resources and privilege. He sets the situation: “You’re walking along, and you see a child face down in a shallow pond. You’re wearing expensive leather shoes. There’s no chance that you’ll be in any danger if you rescue the child, but it will ruin your shoes.” He then asks, “What would you do?” to which virtually everyone responds, “Save the child, of course.” Ah, so how is it different when we spend that money to buy that expensive pair of shoes that we don’t really need, when that money could literally save people from starving, could give people a better quality of life?

Starving people in a war torn land, and other people have only to pass along those basics of sustenance,  and yet, they sell it to make a profit; knowing that many will suffer because of those actions.
I grow uncomfortable as I read what I had written. Maybe the U.S. isn’t war torn, at least not in the ways we typically use that term, but the rest of that statement could be talking about what happens right here in our backyard.

The choices we make–whether it’s what we buy or don’t buy, whether we find the time to write to that lawmaker or make a priority to watch a rerun of Friends–not only impact the people where we live, but the people we hear about in a newsbyte on NPR.