Speaking The Truth?

“They believed they were doing the right thing.”

You probably can think of situations where that has been true for others, incidents where the passage of time has proven that it was the wrong thing. Maybe that is true of something you have done yourself.

Maybe it was just a little thing. Maybe it was something huge.

Good intentions aren’t enough of course. Believing that you are right can have horrible consequences if it turns out that you are wrong. History is littered with examples, some of which have cost millions of lives. I probably don’t need to list the obvious ones.

Which is why I have a certain amount of sympathy for Manitoba’s new Indigeous reconciliation and northern affairs minister, Alan Lagimodiere, who in his inaugural press conference said that those involved in creating and running Canada’s infamous residential schools believed they were doing the right thing.

That shouldn’t be a controversial statement. Especially given that the minister has an indigenous background.

For more than a century First Nations children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in residential schools, , where many, perhaps most, subjected to physical and sexual abuse on top of their abduction. Are we to believe that those who did that did so because they believed what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway?

Their actions could be called attempted genocide today’s standards. And while we don’t aklways agree on the definition, we seem to be agreed that genocide is wrong. It was wrong by the standards of the time also – but sometimes people in politics forget morality when making decisions. It wasn’t the first time people justified an evil policy and pretended it was good. It won’t be the last.

It is important to remember though that while we may view the past in black and white, many times there are shades of grey. Judging the motives of historical figures without placing their actions in context allows us to be self-righteous. This too is not a new thing.

Jesus talked about it in Matthew’s gospel, when he asked “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Alan Lagimodiere was forced to backtrack, tweeting that he misspoke. It doesn’t look like that to me. But on this emotionally charged topic it is very difficult to say anything to help society move toward healing, especially if you don’t parrot the received wisdom of the times, which demonizes civil servants and politicians who believed they were doing the right thing.

To move beyond the sins of the past we must first understand them and the motivation of those who committed them. Otherwise we get caught up in the self-rightousness of the times, with no idea of the size of the plank in our own eye.

Which may explain the lack of condemnation of attacks on a couple of dozen Canadian churchs in the past month. If it were mosques being torched in response to the historical crimes of Islam there would be an outcry.

Canada’s elites see attacks on churches as “understandable.” In not condemning them, they believe they ae doing the right thing.

How do you think history will judge them?

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