Yesterday all Americans were stunned, even if they saw it coming, by the sight of an angry mob storming and occupying the Capitol. As we waited to hear the response from our leadership, I found myself silently hoping “Please don’t say ‘this isn’t who we are.'”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many leaders said. But at this point, let’s face it, this is who we are.
It’s not all of who we are, of course. The country is huge and varied and plenty of other things happened yesterday: lives were saved, cars were stolen, and dogs were walked. Somebody somewhere finished a puzzle. But the fact that something so momentous and awful could occur, and all the factors that came together to result in a violent attempt at derailing the legal workings of the government – that’s us, as well.
I’ve written about this issue before. By saying “this isn’t who we are” we are excusing ourselves from having to improve. It’s an out, it’s a cheat. And we have so many creative ways of letting ourselves off the hook, as we justify the behaviors we’re ashamed of: It’s not who we are, it’s just an outlier. It’s temporary. Don’t worry, this is just a few extreme people. We’re only doing it this way for now, once we’ve established ourselves, we will do better. After we win, we can start following the rules. Just this one time…
But it doesn’t work that way. We are what we do, not just what we say. We can always find some reason that this time is an exception, but if we don’t face the truth, then we will never change.
Admitting who we really are and owning our flaws isn’t as bad as we think. It’s OK to be an imperfect person, to work in a flawed company, and live in a country that has room for improvement. That just means that we have aspirational goals. Is anything complete and perfect, after all? It’s a show of strength to be able to say, “This is who we are, but it’s not who we want to be, and we’re going to strive to be better.”
What we are now doesn’t have to be what we are forever. But if we can’t admit the truth, we probably can’t muster the energy to change it.
Yes, this is who we are. But we want to be better. And we’re going to try.
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