The problem with organizations or communities—or parts of communities, or parts of organizations—that don’t want to do the work of self-examination and self-reflection when acts have occurred that damage the public trust… the problem is that they can only then push their energy into a mythology of the present and future that restores to them the agency of being “good,” of being “well-intentioned,” of having people’s “best interests” in mind. Or simply push away the work of true repair because it is difficult or because of the secret heartbeat of bad actors still on the scene.
To accomplish this denial it becomes important that there be no one in the community or organization that stands up to or criticizes that vision, that false repair. If there is someone, then instead of acknowledging there may be a larger problem, that person becomes the problem. Perhaps once an honest tradesman, but now someone who, we are told repeatedly, runs an “empire” or is, it is implied, not like the rest of us, despite being exactly like the rest of us.
If only. If only. If only the person can be made to shut up, to be quiet, then the community or organization is just, is right, is on the correct track. It is this sound filling the void, these words, that is the problem…not the void.
Should such a person continue to point out the disconnect between reality and the agreed-upon communal fiction, then the person, despite the message not having changed, despite having been consistent and true… is somehow being too critical, too divisive, too… whatever. Even if the real violence is being done by those asking the person to submit.
In the aftermath of an event that both brings to heel and chastises or embarrasses the powerful, what occurs, then, is a tale of deflection—of changing the past narrative to fit the present circumstances. A negation that admits to no contradiction.
Why, people once close to one another… it turns out they existed in far-distant orbits from one another, barely able to even sense the gravitational pull of the spouse or friend they once spent a fair amount of time with at home (or in bars downtown). The familiar once experienced drunk in the late hours at some island retreat, that carousing comradery, was just a haunting by an unknown ghost or, not even that, reduced to whisper, dust, or conveniently displaced to some other point in time and space. “I don’t remember seeing them there.” “We exchanged pleasantries in passing.” (We were not, in fact, slumped in a hotel hallway, half passed-out, scheming about how to rule the world.)
Along with this displacement, people in power of a sudden gnash their teeth and wail and proclaim that they have been long oppressed by unseen and mysterious forces that have hampered their efforts to make all decent and right. Why, it has been harrowing and they have had to endure so much. And if only these ethereal forces with their evil agenda had not been in the way, why decades of inability to accomplish goals would vanish and all that is good and right would occur overnight.
Lament with these poor souls their misfortune at both being in charge for so long a period of time and yet seemingly having no control whatsoever. Lament with them how the light they bring could all this time not shine as it should but was dim, so dim, from such affliction and no failing of their own. Yet now shall they sally forth to bring the battle to the ghosts and the evil forces. Now shall they right all of the wrongs. Now is the time.
But, of course, all of this is nonsense, and underneath many a serious demeanor lies a smirk, a leer, or glint in the eye, that gives away the game.
Welcome to Tallahassee.