Monday, June 22, 2020


When my daughter and son were little and got into fights, I forced the one in the wrong to apologize to the other. It went something like this:
Me: "Monica, apologize to your brother."
Me: "Say 'Andrew, I'm sorry I hit you.'"
Monica: "Andrew ..." 
Me: "Andrew, I'm sorry ..."
Monica: "Andrew, I'm sorry ..." 
Me: "Andrew, I'm sorry I hit you."
Monica: "Andrew, I'm sorry I hit you."

Frequently, after Monica got the full apology out, she burst into tears. I think just having those words come out of her toddler body, even if she didn't feel sincerely sorry in the moment, was soul-draining.  The shame, the guilt, the awareness that she had disappointed me. So much for a little one to handle. After the apology and the tears, I forced them to hug it out and say "I love you" to each other. With stiff bodies, they were nudged toward each other until they did it in front of me.

An outsider enforcing purity tests (likely a virtuous non-parent) might have pointed out that a forced apology, a forced hug, and a forced declaration of love doesn't make anything better because they lack sincerity.

To which I'd respond by saying that I don't care if sincerity isn't present yet. Sometimes, if we wait for sincerity to arrive before action is forced, then behavior has the potential to take root and shape values.

By dinnertime, our kids had been doused with reinforcements like "It's never right to hit another person" and "We all make mistakes sometimes" and "It's your job to learn, and love and forgive and look out for one another." And as our little family reflected collectively on the reinforcements, I could feel sincerity literally enter through the front door and sit with all of us at the dinner table. Shaping our values and inspiring sincere hugs and sincere I love yous.

Right now, there's a lot of forced apologies taking place about the ways in which our society has protected systemic racism. A lot of it is awkward. A lot of it lacks sincerity.

Part of the job of our broad coalition, I think, is to bring in reinforcements. There's not a corner of society that doesn't need them. City governments, school boards, neighborhoods, marriages, friendships, sports, art events, crafty businesses. Reinforcements dispensed to shape values that will govern behaviors for the long-term.

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