I’ve been at this series for quite a while, describing the road to reconciliation. These posts are an early draft of what I expect to be my next book. You have the privilege of getting it first; but, sometimes, as I write, need to go back and revise. That’s the case this time. I had initially planned on describing the journey a victim makes towards personal peace, then describing the efforts of the perpetrator towards taking responsibility, and then chronicling their passage towards reconciliation. However, as I went along, I realized that the offender’s journey does not begin when they accept responsibility. Before they ever get to that stage, they first have to go through the same passage as the victim.
Therefore, I went back to the first post, what I anticipate will be the initial chapter, and re-wrote it. This is good time to post it here.
You’re wounded and angry. Someone close to you, who should be loving you, hurt you instead. This person might be a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, a partner, or a spouse. Whoever it is; where you once had trust, you now have fear. You were attracted; you are now apprehensive. You had love, but now you have loathing. You don’t know what to do. Should you stay or should you go? Put up with it, or give it right back to him? Retaliate or bury your feelings? If neither choice seems good, it’s because neither choice is good. You wish there was another way. Some way that affirmed your experience as a victim, but didn’t leave you weak and vulnerable. Some way that facilitated change and showed mercy, without opening you up to more disappointment. Some way to be firm, but not rigid.
Luckily, there is a way. The road to reconciliation can be a long, long road, often not well marked, the choices are confusing, but there is a way.
You’ve done something wrong. You have not been as good as you could be. You hurt someone you love, someone who deserves better from you. This person might be a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, a partner, or a spouse. Whoever it is; where you were once trustworthy, you’re now unreliable. You were close, but now you’re distant. You were loved, but now there’s disgust. You want to do better, but you don’t know how. You’ve apologized, maybe a hundred times, but you can’t get past it. You know that your action, even though it was wrong, was not the whole story. There were precipitating factors. It’s complicated, you’d like to explain, but you can’t talk about it without sounding like you’re making excuses. You wish there were another way between groveling and pride. You’d like to learn from your mistakes without losing your dignity and voice.
There’s a way for you, too; a way to repair what was damaged.
So much had happened that you don’t even know who’s at fault. You’ve been caught in a cycle of injury and reprisal so long that you don’t remember how it started. It was once a loving relationship with a parent, with a sibling, with a child, a friend, a partner, or a spouse. Now you don’t know what it is anymore. It’s a bait you must take, a trap you can’t escape. You’ve gone to years of therapy, dozens of marriage counselors, and read a shelf full of self help books, but you can’t change. You’d like to, but it takes two and you both can’t seem to get it together at the same time. You wish there was another way, a way that was simple, clear, and direct.
I wish there was another way, too; but there’s not. There is no simple way. There’s not a way without some pitfalls, temptations, blind alleys, and complications. The road to reconciliation is not easy, but it’s easier than the way you’ve been going.
The two of you, the offender and the offended, have to travel the first part of this route by separate paths. You each have to do your own work before you can come together. You each have a part to play before you can arrive at full, genuine reconciliation. Not everyone is up to it. Not everyone makes it all the way. Your counterpart will not make it to the rendezvous point exactly when you do. Your counterpart may not make it at all.
Total, genuine reconciliation requires collaborative effort that some people cannot do; cannot or will not. Both parties have to take responsibility for their share of the situation. If you have a counterpart who won’t do his share, you will not make it all the way to Reconciliation. Luckily, you can make it pretty far down the road without their help. You can make it all the way to Personal Peace, which is on the road to Reconciliation. Personal Peace is a pretty nice place.
The offender and the offended have their own paths to travel, but it’s the same path and they both start from the same place. In all cases, whether you were harmed or the one doing the harm, the road to reconciliation, or personal peace, if that’s the best you can get, begins with the sense of being a victim.
You might be surprised by this. When someone has done harm, we usually want to start with them admitting they were at fault. We’re looking for a confession, before repentance begins. We want them to be sorry, to take responsibility, if not, grovel, pleading for forgiveness. I don’t believe in starting there; we don’t make meaningful progress if we start there; we may not start at all if we try to start there. It goes better if we start where the perpetrator is, at the source of their offense: not at the conviction of sin, but at the conviction of injury.
The cycle is obvious. When you’re injured, you sometimes act out and harm someone, who is injured, so they may act out and harm someone as well. Around and around it goes. The solution is obvious, too, If the perpetrator found a way to deal with his injury, he wouldn’t need to act out and injure anyone else.
So that’s why I start where I do. Everyone is a victim, somehow. There are certainly enough bad parents, bad neighborhoods, bad teachers and schools, nuns with rulers, muggers with guns, ruthless terrorists, selfish boyfriends, narcissistic girlfriends, vicious trolls, reckless drivers, treasonous spouses, ungrateful children, exploitive bosses, racist cops, lying politicians, and demanding elderly to go around. These people and their actions do not bring out the best in you. When you don’t know what to do with the harm they cause, you take your place in the ranks of those who do harm. Before you ever became an offender, you were a victim first. You were a nail who fashioned yourself into a hammer.
This is even true for those who seem to always get the breaks. People born with a silver spoon in their mouths can complain that they never had to struggle, so they never learned how to cope with the little trouble they do have. Their complaints don’t have to be justified or reasonable to act on them, they just have to have them. If, in their eyes they are harmed, that’s enough to make them want to cause harm, themselves.
This is why, in all cases, I start where I do. If you’re a victim, you may resent that I ask you to open your ranks and let perpetrators of all kinds march with you. Why should you feel sorry for cheating spouses, self-absorbed parents, bullying siblings, alcoholic girlfriends, drug-dealing, woman-beating boyfriends, as well as child abusers, rapists, murderers, and criminals of all kinds? You may see this as yet another indignity visited upon you, you who deserves to be called victim, that I permit sympathy for their kind. What am I, a soft, bleeding-hearted fool?
As you read on, you’ll see that I’m not. It fact, I think you will agree that I like to be up-front, plain-speaking, straight-talking, and unreserved. As a matter of fact, I’m going to start now by pointing out that this whole mess begins when a victim starts believing that some people are more deserving of sympathy, care, and respect than others. That’s when a victim begins to cross the line and becomes a perpetrator, himself. So, cut it out. You don’t have to feel sorry for the selfish prick who is blubbering that he’s had it so hard; but you do have to acknowledge, if that’s where he’s at, that’s where he has to start.
So, let’s begin, not by reconciling, for reconciliation is still a long way off, and maybe you’ll never get there. Your first objective is coming to peace with what happened. You get there by first going in what seems to be the other direction. You’ve got to get angry first, or, at least, know your feelings about what happened.