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Do Collective Apologies Heal or Harm?

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COLLECTIVE APOLOGIES
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It's hard to believe that 150 years ago, white people owned black people in 23 states. Slavery ended with the surrender of General Lee in 1865. Chief Justice Roger Taney, on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote in 1857 that black people were "so far inferior ... that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Do you think that Taney could have imagined, in his wildest dreams, that we would elect an African-American president in 2008?

Today, people with different colored skins have more or less the same opportunities and rights in this country. Does that mean that racism has been completely eradicated? I don't think so.

In the same way, back in the 1920s, women protested for their right to vote. It was a struggle, but they succeeded. In the 70s, women demanded their right to participate in a social and economic system that had been mostly created by the male mind. Women became judges, police, politicians, religious ministers, all roles that had been previously reserved for men.

And now, in the last few years, we've seen women step up again, not to participate in structures created by men, but with their own expression of feminine wisdom. Countless books have been written now on feminine leadership, feminine ecology, feminine approaches to education and art, and perhaps most important, the emergence of feminine spirituality. Does that mean that repression or even disrespect of feminine energy by men is gone? I don't think so.

Last summer, Dr. Gay Hendricks and I put together a document called "A Manifesto for Conscious Men" as a Facebook page. We've been friends for a long time, and we've both discovered a reverence for feminine energy through being married to extraordinary, deep, creative and powerful women. We've put this document together with the help of other men who want to express their welcome and celebration for the return of feminine wisdom on our planet, to balance the gifts of the masculine. It also acknowledges and apologizes for the imbalance of thousands of years.

Obviously this is a compelling subject for many people. Our Facebook page drew about 8,000 "likes" over many months and initiated an online community of people who are interested in discussing the balance of masculine and feminine energy, in every way.

This Christmas, the Hendrickses had their annual party. We grabbed a few men and asked them if they'd like to read parts of the manifesto into a camera, not quite sure where the project would go. Later when I got back to my sleepy little town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, I got the guys in my men's group to do the same, and then asked a few other friends.

We put together a movie of our manifesto called "Dear Woman." We put it up on YouTube, thinking that the members of our Facebook group would enjoy it. We announced it to them on April 2.

We had no way to anticipate what was going to happen next.

In the intervening 10 days, that amateur little movie has been viewed by over 350,000 people. Some women obviously appreciated the gesture and were forgiving of the slightly happy-go-lucky style of our film. Some women were offended, saying that they found it patronizing or insincere. Some men (the minority, mind you) resonated with the message, but the overwhelming majority of the men who saw the video were completely enraged. A civil war has been occurring on that YouTube page ever since, with the majority of comments in total-war attack mode. We even received three death threats.

The major offensive came with people assuming that Dr. Hendricks and I are a gay couple, and every kind of debasing slur has been hurled at us. I never knew what it was like to be the victim of gay hatred, being a heterosexual man, but now I know. It ain't pretty. Those comments were deleted, out of respect for men who are actually gay and take enough flack already.

Ironically, the second offensive came with people assuming that this was a cunning strategy to "get laid."

"This is the only way that those two old guys could possibly get any," one rioter lobbed at us. Again, this is ironic because we are both in marriages that are off-the-charts fulfilling in every way.

But the more serious objections came from those who questioned if it's sane, valid, necessary or even "allowed" to offer an apology for things you did not personally do. Many of the men who posted were outraged that we would have the audacity to speak on behalf of other people, most of whom are no longer alive.

This is actually a really interesting question.

I have a friend who was in born in Israel but moved to the United States before he was old enough to enter the army. He wound up becoming the roommate of a Palestinian boy in his freshman year of university. There they were, the first day, in the same room. My young Israeli friend had never done anything to harm any Palestinians, but he felt moved that first day to say, "Listen. I know what my people have done to yours, and I'm really sorry." The Palestinian reciprocated the apology, and they quickly became friends.

Was that conversation sane, necessary and allowed? Can white people apologize on behalf of their ancestors for what was done to Native Americans a long, long time ago? Could a young German express deep regret for what his forefathers did to the Jews?

Can collective apologies initiate healing where it would otherwise not have occurred, or do they simply create guilt and shame in people who have done nothing wrong?

Dr. Hendricks and I will be addressing the many comments that have been made about this video on a tele-seminar this Thursday, April 14, at 6 p.m. PST. You're welcome to attend. You can register here. If you miss the live event, you can register anyway to listen to the replay.

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