an epitaph for justice

cognitive dissonance (and the barrier to reparations)

Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize.

- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Yesterday, I experienced an incident where a co-worker stated, “I don’t understand this, it looks like Chinese to me.” I just froze, and then (to my dismay) tried to ignore it.

This is an experience of Othering that I became numb to from past experience, and I have sought to become more cognizant of this kind of behavior.

However, what I deeply appreciated of this co-worker was that they immediately caught themselves and followed-up with, “I shouldn’t have said that.” Since then, the co-worker has also apologized.

When we do something that was wrong, why is it so hard for us to confess wrongdoing? 

The co-worker actually is married to someone of Asian descent (intentionally vague for anonymity). What we have seen in recent times are people using family / friends as a cover for wrongdoing. “I couldn’t have said that.. I couldn’t have done that.. I’m definitely not… Because I am married to.. Because I have a friend who is.. Because.. Because.." 

What does having daughters or a wife have to do with a man doing a sexist act? What does having a black friend or husband have to do with doing a racist act?

We use our past, our friends, our families as shields to defend and justify ourselves. We see an image of ourselves as one person which is in contradiction to that action we took. We see ourselves in relation to others which is in contradiction to the action that could be harmful to others. I’m thankful that my co-worker apologized without invoking any of this.

Confession sets us free. I am so grateful to be Catholic and have the sacrament of reconciliation – it is truly a grace that God has provided as the pathway to once again be in right relationship with Him, and with others.

Why then, do we struggle to confess personal wrongdoings? Why do we struggle to confess corporate wrongdoings?

To admit wrongdoing is to destroy the ego. To confess is to die to self.

It only takes another step to see the same behavior from institutions and those within them. We see an image of our country in contradiction to its history. We see an image of the Church in contradiction to its Mother and its Foundation. 

The struggle to confess seems to be situated upon a cognitive dissonance and a belief that "good works” and past righteousness are atonement for wrongdoing. What does having done many “good works” have to do with a man doing a sinful act? What does having done many “good works” have to do with a country having harmed others? St. Basil, on his discourse On Justice and Mercy, stated, “If you give alms to the poor after you have despoiled them of their goods, it were better for you neither to have taken nor given.” It doesn’t matter how many “good things” someone does, sin is separation from God. It doesn’t matter how many “good things” America has done, harmful actions still need to be addressed. And if unaddressed, it was better to not have done the “good things” at all.

At the end of the sacrament of reconciliation, the person confessing is called to true repentance in making amends and reparations for wrongdoing. The quicker we are to confess, the quicker we are to find healing. The sacrament of reconciliation is a true gift of grace from God to renew right relationships. Only then can we even begin to discuss making amends and reparations.