When children are little and get into conflict, we often take for granted that they aren’t developmentally ready for nuanced conversations. We may separate them, confiscate whatever toy they were fighting over, and when we feel like there has been enough of a cool down, encourage them to hug and make up. As they get older we might explain in more depth “why we don’t treat our friends that way” but for the most part, the goal is to get everybody back to playing peacefully again.
Weirdly enough, this is often our approach with adults after a contentious election season. “Just say you’re sorry; now kiss and make up.” Sure, there is much ink (virtual or otherwise) spilled about tough conversations, understanding, and healing. And sometimes those conversations do occur. But by and large, time has borne out that what much of the populace wants is to just go back to playing peacefully.
Resentments and gaping wounds are hidden under platitudes and congenial smiles.
When we handle adult problems the same way as child problems, we get underdeveloped results. And frankly, I’ve had my fill of underdeveloped results. I don’t want to “make nice”. I want to “make better”.
Making nice is about comfort. Making better requires accountability.
Right now calls for unity, kindness, and grace. But some of those calling for this, particularly those who have been less than gracious toward marginalized and vulnerable communities, will find the willingness to extend that grace in short supply.
As a Black woman, I know firsthand that my community has been expected to be the “bigger person” time and time again throughout history. Any reticence to take this on is usually greeted with malice and lectures that we should be grateful for what little remorse and justice we get for the harm done to us. Ultimately, the reaction we get to demanding more than a cursory acknowledgment of our pain reveals to us that the aim was for the offenders to feel better, not for us to be made whole.
True healing requires that the parties responsible for harm be accountable for their actions. Anything less than that just breeds resentment and a resurgence of unresolved conflict down the road. Also, requiring the injured party to always be the one to make the first move toward conciliation infantilizes the responsible party. We’re all adults here, and the responsibility for mending rifts shouldn’t fall on one side.
Making nice is about appearances. Making better requires transparency.
There is precious little more mature than being able to admit when you’re wrong. It is uncomfortable and requires a level of humility that has been dwindling in people over the years. No one wants to be seen as anything but a “good person”.
But this fixation on being seen as “good” is hindering growth in far too many of us. If our nation is going to take any steps toward filling in the deep chasm within it, it’s time to stop being worried about appearances. It’s time to own where you have taken things too far and commit to fixing it.
Along with that, it’s time to stop patting yourself on the back for having a diverse set of friends (be they in ethnicity or political ideology) when that diverse friend group can’t check you when you’re wrong.
Making nice is about expediency. Making better requires endurance.
A lot of damage has been done. I have lost trust in, and respect for, so many people, and I know I speak for many others when I say that trust and respect will probably never come back. Not because I’m intransigent or incapable of forgiveness. I don’t think many of the people who have caused the damage realize just how deep they cut.
And if I were to tell them, they would probably expect me to get over it on their timeline. Just like the expectation to be the bigger person, the expectation to smooth things over quickly is one that has worn out its welcome.
If you don’t have the patience to let the process play out and earn back the respect or trust you lost, it might be better for everyone to go your separate ways. A rushed, insincere reconciliation is no better than a permanent rift.
Making nice is about civility. Making better requires commitment.
Yes, words matter and we should all aim to be civil, but your commitment to progress and healing shouldn’t hinge on how someone talks to you. Not one of us is superhuman. If I’m in pain, my priority as a human being will be getting rid of the pain. If your priority is also helping to get rid of the pain, it’s almost cruel to require me to be nice to you before you help ensure that my pain is gone.
Of course, if getting rid of pain is not your priority, then this doesn’t apply to you. The adage about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar applies to getting people to do what they don’t want to do. I’m not interested in begging anyone to recognize and care about my humanity and work with me to make this country better for everyone. I will make better use of my time working with those more committed to change and reconciliation than they are to having their ego stroked.
The time has passed for hugging and making up. It’s time to fix this like the adults we are.