The Reckoning from Virginia

By Rich Harwood

Watching the unfolding events in Virginia this past week has only deepened my personal commitment and drive to address two key topics: identity and sorrow. These will be a new focus of our Studio on Community moving forward.

The events in Virginia reflect yet another public crystallization of a profound national challenge. American history is riddled with stains. To ignore them is to deny reality; when this happens, we deny people their dignity. This is corrosive to our body politic and endangers our public spirit.

These challenges are compounded by the widespread grievances we hear throughout our society today. When we ignore these, people feel little choice but to shout over each another, shout past one another, shout incriminations at others. Gridlock ensues. Anger rises. Cynicism spreads.

So many of these issues are now related to identity. In some ways, the more we fail to see and hear one another, the more our individual and group identities feel at risk, the more politicized our debates become, the more we dig in and fight. No one wins.

My goal is to develop ways that can help us recognize and honor people’s identities while also helping each of us to step beyond ourselves. Only then can we forge a shared future. This is a critical test of our individual and public lives.

But to achieve this—even to get on this path—we must also have the willingness to truly deal with sorrow. The sorrow of hearing one another’s suffering and pain. Sorrow that is a result of a deep and profound sense of loss. Sorrow that is lying beneath the anger, even rage that is felt. Sorrow about a desire to move forward, to let go, but never to forget. It is hard enough to do this as an individual; now, given current conditions, how can we as a society—in a public way—confront, work through and embrace such sorrow.

Our nation has stains on its history. But we have also proven that we are capable of confronting our history and making progress. It is these two forces, together, that fuel my faith that we can once more find productive ways to make a more perfect union.

I know there are no quick or easy answers here. But to let that stop us is to extinguish hope.