By Stephanie Chang
Justice might do well to receive a lesson from toddlers. First, listen to how your offense hurt someone; then, acknowledge that you did something wrong; and finally, make up for what you did – these are basic principles that we learned from our earliest childhood days in playground skirmishes and sibling dramatics.
Yet, as adults, we all let politics and egos get in the way – losing sight of the process that is so simply human and that gives us a way to get along, understand and forgive each other.
The “Sex, Lies, and Secret Deals” scandal with the Mayor has certainly consumed the minds of many Detroiters. Media coverage of the situation leaves many wondering how we can restore decency, truth, and respect.
Perhaps we can begin by getting back to basics – by exploring the possibilities of a Truth & Reconciliation process in our city. Not only for the current scandal, but for injustices in all of Detroit’s neighborhoods.
On February 16 people met in the Club Technology building on the east side of Detroit to discuss “Martin Luther King’s Challenge to Us in Detroit.” One of the break-out groups was tasked with exploring the local implications of King’s statement about “bearing witness.” Together we discussed the current scandal with the Mayor and brainstormed potential goals and guidelines for a Truth and Reconciliation process. We felt that it should include these elements:
- Creation of our own truth out of a community-based process rather than relying on the media;
- Safe space for individual people or groups to describe the hurt and impact that the wrongdoings have had on them;
- Acknowledgement by the person responsible that she or he did something wrong;
- Action by the responsible person to begin restoring the community which she or he hurt or impacted.
The nature of this process would be healing and empowering, not punitive or destructive. It would be educational – parents could use the process as a means to remind their children that actions have consequences. We decided that, because it will be crucial to empower voices of community members, the process should not include politicians or people in power, except in the role of listeners.
Most importantly, this Truth & Reconciliation process must allow for forgiveness of the responsible person, so that we can move on as a community. We don’t need to know just yet what the answers will be from this process. It’s the process itself that will give us the ability to begin to restore.
The steps we came up with – as people who had just met – were nothing earth-shattering. We realized that, if asked, young children would probably come up with similar guidelines. If, as adults, we put some faith behind the process we all learned as toddlers, can you imagine how much truth and respect could be restored to our communities? It’s time to get back to basics.