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November 7, 2017
“How can this be happening in 2017?”
If you haven’t said it, you’ve heard it. How is it possible that we are seeing marches with torches and swastikas in American streets? That the Ku Klux Klan is openly recruiting in public spaces? That public discourse regularly features words we thought had all but disappeared? How do we find ourselves here?
I believe that we are trapped in a system of unresolved trauma.
As a person passionate about the possibilities of peacemaking, I have been studying trauma and its ongoing impact for years, convinced that most of the personal and communal conflicts we experience stem from experiences of trauma that are unacknowledged and unaddressed. The impact of trauma has received sustained scholarly and pastoral attention that reveals that unresolved trauma leads to an endless cycle of violence — of acting in against ourselves and/or acting out against each other. Practitioners often portray this as a figure eight, with people and societies moving ceaselessly through cycles of harm.
Days after the horrific events in Charlottesville, I picked up one of the handouts we use in training and was shocked to see how well it portrayed what I had watched with phrases such as “attacking in the name of self-defense or honor,” “seeing self/group as victims,” “dehumanizing the other,” “experiencing unmet needs for safety” and “viewing violence as redemptive.” Although written years in advance, the handout was an eerily accurate portrayal of the Unite the Right rally and its aftermath.
We need not wonder why. Our national history is replete with racialized trauma we’ve experienced and inflicted individually and collectively. Our corporate trauma is rarely even acknowledged, much less addressed in meaningful ways. It is not surprising that we can see so clearly the ways we ceaselessly move through cycles of harm.