Friday, March 6, 2009

the effects of denying the wrongs

Penny Coleman, in her book Flashback on PTSD, suicide and war, noted that the veterans of war and their families would have benefited had the military and their caring arms acknowledged the correlations other countries have begun admitting already (e.g., Australia & the UK). The families of vets who'd committed suicide could have dealt with the aftermath of their loved one's death. "Instead of compassion in our time of grief, we got the bottom line. A simple public acknowledgment when the patterns began to be observed, when the numbers started coming in, that suicide is often a direct result of combat PTSD, would have profoundly changed our expectations, our inclination to seek help, and the load of guilt and failure we have lugged around ever since. ...We thought we were alone. We were exhausted. We had no proof." (p. 146) Fear of being inundated with claims for service which would tax the physical & mental health system overrode honesty and integrity in medical and psychological studies of combat veterans.

From the perspective of the Christian faith, institutional obfuscation is clearly a failure to confess the truth. As most victims of corporate or institutional wrongdoing know, the first "wrong" or error is often not as painful as the ongoing denial of complicity, culpability or responsibility by leaders or others in that corporate group. What would happen had a leader clearly stated the obvious, for instance, that Agent Orange caused a host of physical illnesses in vets who were exposed to it in Vietnam? or, that higher rates of suicide and PTSD have been linked in combat vets? Even the UN has noted that their own peacekeeping forces are at higher risk in both short and long term (Coleman, 146).

Does fear of the cost prevent us from loving and serving our neighbor with the truth? As individuals, and as groups and systems? How small our trust in God is when we let the potential cost determine our commitment to God and neighbor! Perhaps, too, the admission of mistakes or poor judgment might very well lower the end cost. There will always be people who try to litigate, of course, but the very non-admission of wrongdoing or guilt is what frequently inspires people to litigate. Litigants, not infrequently, simply want to force the confession that hasn't been simply profferred. What costs more, one wonders: cover-up, denial, and litigation? or, acceptance, apology, and reasonable redress?

In terms of trust in the greater system, the latter can inspire hope and cooperation, a sense of relief and acceptance, a willingness to work for solutions. Making excuses, rationalizing, and covering-up errors of commission, omission and ignorance, on the other hand, divides us from one another and also divides us within ourselves. The mental costs to the sufferer can be very high, and, our Christian faith proclaims, the spiritual costs to the wrong-doer escalate and snowball, too, to themselves, their families, and their communities. (cf. Psalm 73)

Perhaps one of the most profound lessons veterans teach us is how vulnerable and fragile we are, ultimately, despite all our armor, impervious masks, weaponry, power to destroy, or money. Love and truth walk hand in hand, confessing and healing.

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