Rarely do I simply repeat the words of another. CNN news analyst and USA TODAY contributor Kirsten Powers, published a recent piece, however, that deserves to be shared. And shared again. The Intramuralist may or may not agree with every opinion within, but Powers’ approach and main points are acutely admirable. Her post is entitled “I’m not proud of role I’ve played in toxic public debate. I plan to change.” An excerpt is published below, with all emphasis mine. It’s lengthy, but it’s worth reading… if willing to ponder how it personally and potentially powerfully applies…
“Whether it is the Covington controversy or the abortion debate, it’s critical to remember that people are not the sum of their worst moments in life.
I recently took a hiatus from social media to reflect on what role I might be playing in our increasingly toxic public square. I was not proud of what I found.
During this time, I reflected not just on my behavior on social media, but also in my public expressions both on TV and in my columns. I looked back over the past decade of my work with a clear eye to assess whether I was shedding light on issues or just creating heat. I cringed at many of the things I had written and said. Many I would not say or write today, sometimes because my view has changed on the issue and sometimes just because I was too much of a crusader, too judgmental and condemning. What’s interesting is that at the time, I was convinced that I was righteous and ‘speaking truth’ and therefore justified behaving as I did, and that anyone who didn’t like it just ‘couldn’t handle the truth.’ ‘The truth hurts’ was practically my motto.
When I took to Twitter Monday to apologize for my lack of grace in the public square, many people expressed concern that I would stop speaking with moral clarity on important issues. This is not my goal. I will continue to stand on the side of equality and justice, but also mercy and grace. My goal is to speak in a way that remembers the humanity of everyone involved.
That includes the Covington teenagers, who I believe behaved disrespectfully, but who don’t deserve to have their entire lives defined by one day. It includes Trump supporters whom I, in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue of white privilege, not too long ago regrettably characterized as uniformly racist for voting for him. Not exactly a conversation starter.
It also applies to Al Franken, whom I called on to resign from the U.S. Senate but now believe he should have been giving an investigation even if it resulted in cries of ‘hypocrisy’ from the right. It includes Planned Parenthood, which I have excoriated in years past in ways I would never do today. It includes those on the left who were the targets of my 2015 book on free speech, in which I was too dismissive of real concerns by traumatized people and groups who feel marginalized and ignored.
As I surveyed my work, the thing that struck me is how much I have changed. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, let alone 25 years ago. Yet our media routinely dig up information from decades ago and demands judgment be deliveredwith no regard to whether the person has evolved. We need to be more interested in who people are today, not who they were decades ago.
Don’t we want people to change and grow? We should. Yet even if they have, demands for heads to roll abound when their ancient sins are unearthed. When old homophobic tweets by MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid were discovered, there was a clamor for her firing. But did even a single person believe that in her current life she’s a homophobic person?
This is not an argument against accountability. It’s an argument for us to think about whether the punishment fits the crime. Al Franken shouldn’t get the same punishment that Les Moonves did because they didn’t do the same things. As a baseline rule, a person losing his job should not be the default punishment for noncriminal behavior or behavior where there hasn’t been an impartial investigation.
We need to have humility and realize that there but for the grace of God go I. It’s easy to delude yourself that you would never do whatever today’s designated bad person is accused of doing. But don’t be so sure. Given the wrong circumstances, people would be surprised at what they are capable of doing.
We also need to recognize what we are doing: It’s called scapegoating.
In the Bible, a scapegoat was an animal burdened with the sins of others through a ritual, then driven away. This is in effect what our society does when we designate certain people to bear our collective sins. Once it’s discovered that a person behaved in a racist, homophobic or misogynist way — often in the distant past — she is banished from society, creating a sense that something has been accomplished. That somehow there has been atoning because someone was punished.
This creates two problems: First, the systemic problem still exists. Second, one person is not responsible for the sins of everyone. People should not be treated as disposable and banished in perpetuity with no path to restoration with society. Would you want that to happen to you?
It’s critical to remember that people simply are not the sum of their worst moments in life. Go back through your life and write down every terrible thing you have done or said, and now imagine a video of it is on the internet. Would you want that to be the record of your life? Don’t underestimate the power of denial. I frequently hear people who I knew to be homophobic 20 years ago express indignance over anyone who doesn’t support same-sex marriage today with no sense of self-awareness.
I know there is a double standard when it comes to the benefit of the doubt in our culture. People of color, especially young black men, rarely receive the benefit of the doubt or context for their failings and can receive a literal death sentence as a result. I just don’t believe that refusing to provide white people the benefit of the doubt will right that wrong. The way to right it is to have one standard for all people and to actively work to reform a system that is fundamentally discriminatory.
It’s often noted by people on the left that conservatives don’t understand systemic oppression because they think of everything as an individual case. They fail to accept the larger picture that all of those cases create. I agree with this. But the corollary is that sometimes people who are left of center can fall prey to only seeing the systemic and missing the individual. I’m certainly guilty of that.
We need to develop a way to address the systemic problems in society without throwing sacrifices to the gods in the hope of a quick fix. We need to reform a culture that is fundamentally punitive and willing to throw away people’s lives for making a mistake. Our prisons are filled with such people.
We also need to create a culture of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation that is based on those who have made mistakes taking responsibility for those errors — however grievous — and working toward righting the wrong in which they participated.
This would be a radical shift, but one I am determined to make.
I hope you will join me.”
Thank you, Kirsten Powers. I’m in.