The Violence of Justification

As shadowy feelings have bubbled to the surface and burst like a toxic sludge, I have witnessed some dynamics that have brought insights that, I pray, may be helpful in digging into and cleaning out the deep wound that has been created from white supremacy.

It truly is a disease that has caused immeasurable harm (such as, our broken prison system and courts of law, as just one small example), and as we clean it up and clear it out, it feels important to understand the dynamics and origins.

The work I do with clients and the personal healing work that I do deals with looking compassionately at the survival programming that is woven into our subconscious. It operates behind the scenes, and yet the consequences and impacts are far from hidden. Our subconscious controls up to 90% of our decisions and behaviors. Our subconscious is where all the parts of ourselves that we cannot accept, detest, and fear go to operate. Because they are in the subconscious, it’s already quite the feat to work with consciously, but when you add in the fact that there are programs in there that are harmful to ourselves and to others, then we have the powerful factors of shame and guilt to add incentives to stay blind to them.

Reasons are not results

When we behave in ways that are harmful to ourselves and to others, the quickest and easiest way of responding is to find blame outside of ourselves and justify that behavior. It’s easy enough to do. The mind is incredibly bendable when it wants to be (and even when it doesn’t). We can convince ourselves of all sorts of things and they can even seem completely logical and reasonable if we can just make sure to keep those convictions detached from our hearts and our intuitive connections with others. So, we make up stories about why our poor behavior is justified because “He started it!” or “I was just defending myself!” or some other “good reason.”

I will offer up words from someone I deeply admire (Jeff Wright, president of Medicine Path Native American Church) . . .

“Having a good excuse to behave poorly is not the same as behaving well.”

We all have to take accountability for our behavior. If we behave poorly, there are consequences that, no matter the justification, we have to answer for. If we want a world that is peaceful, we must commit to peace. If we find that we are not creating peace, then we have to look within to the mental justifications we are creating that are keeping us from seeing our own shadows that are adding to the darkness and unrest of these times.

Justification is the law of Moses: “An eye for an eye,” which a wise man said leaves a kingdom of the blind.

The work of keeping our eyes open and looking within as well as without is painful. We have to see the shitty behaviors of ourselves and others. We have to address our own escapes into justification and step away from the quick and easy justified reactions. We need to take accountability for whether we are leading with kindness, even in the face of plenty of reasons to not be kind . . . or whether we are leading with unkind behavior that we justify and excuse.

Proving ourselves to be “not racist” isn’t the point

A white community member recently said that they felt they could never prove that they are not a racist. I think this whole approach is flawed. As white people, we need to consciously be in the practice of pushing forward equality for all, and until we see it reigning strong all around us, we are not done. It isn’t about making ourselves look good in the face of oppression. It’s about doing what we can to create a new reality where everyone truly has an equal opportunity to thrive. We don’t get to check a certain amount of boxes and then sit back and do nothing because we’ve proven we are not racist. If we see that there is injustice, then we must stay in the game to change the rules so that all have an equal chance of “winning.”

It is painful and humbling to acknowledge when we have caused harm, but we don’t have the luxury of justifying harmful behavior. It is time to take the open-eyed look at ourselves. It can and actually should be kind and compassionate, so that our defenses are more likely to drop and we can make the correction.

The Slippery Slope of Shame & Guilt

Shame and guilt are major distractions from actually owning our behavior, taking accountability for it, and refining our behavior so that it is aligned with the ideals of equality and justice for all. Shame and guilt are a luxury we can’t afford. In other words, we need to get over the distraction of wallowing in guilt (and creating that silly drama for the sake of people of color. I don’t see any of our BIPOC community who is soothed by the “I’m so bad” act.). We need to get over our hard feelings and justifications and be willing to learn and then act in a way that creates fairness. It will be uncomfortable, probably for our lifetime and maybe even beyond. This is our work, as I see it, as white people.

If you are truly committed to overriding the internalized programming that has you defending yourself against the changes that need to be made internally, you can do it. You’ll find that as you unravel your privilege, you’ll also be able to liberate yourself from other survival programming that has had you stuck in limitations you didn’t realize were actually your own programming working against you (and others). The oppression we have all bought into, even if you’re white, is holding you back in ways you probably can’t even recognize. It takes a lot of will power to look in the mirror and see behaviors that are not aligned with our conscious beliefs, but we all have them and they’ve been greatly reinforced and strengthened by the colonial mindset that created the structures that hold our “civilization” in place.

We have to think differently to have something different

The only way to think differently and create new structures that help our diverse culture to thrive is to be willing to override the programming that has embedded itself into the subconscious and operates at the survival level behind the scenes.

Einstein said that we cannot solve a problem with the same mentality that created it. Now, more than ever, we need to be willing to open ourselves to the discomfort of new possibilities. They may sound radical, uncomfortable, and even scary, but the only way forward is way outside our comfort zone.

This is the work. No more defending. No more justifying. Be willing to be uncomfortable and in it for the long haul. Not just this summer, while you’re stuck without festivals or big parties to attend. Not just this year, but for the rest of your life. And don’t try to do it all alone. It’s important to be with like-hearted community.

We can help

We are here to create safe and sacred spaces for our diverse community to learn, heal, and grow together. All who come in a good way are welcome. And we especially welcome all who desire the co-creation of new structures that uplift everyone.

If you’d like to be more in the dialogue about exploring and unraveling the internal and unconscious ways you are harming others (and yourself), we are here for you. Schedule a no charge, no obligation conversation with us now to discover how we can help you.

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