Nationalism, Soul Care and Moral Injury 3/28/20


Today I am moving into the theme of the subject line of this email.  This will not be an easy journey.  COVID-19, and other bigger things in our world, do not confront us with easy choices.  Yes, bigger, which predate and will postdate COVID-19. I am not in the business of inventing or creating crises, but sometimes I do not shrink from pointing out those which exist.

When this COVID-19 event is over the world will face the same set of problems it faced before it started—with some new layers and twists, fears and possibilities , to be sure, but still the same—the big ones will not have gone away.

Of course, some of us won’t survive, but that’s true of every day and every epoch, isn’t it?  I’m talking about those of us who do survive. 

So, what about us?  The problems still the same, will we be any different?

Voila, that depends on us.  It is a safe prediction that many of us will be scarred in some way by trauma.  Cold, gripping fear leaves its mark.  Yes, war and great disasters leave PTSD in their wake.  Can you imagine the PTST afterward?  That’s worth a little thought now.  Can we care for our selves now in a way that minimized PTSD then?  Certainly worth asking. 

But—why is there always a but?—there’s another way we may changed, and this one
really depends on our level of soul/self care.  This is the possibility of moral injury.  Can we avoid moral 
injury?  We are diminished and damaged by moral injury.  

The awareness—and/or acknowledgment—of moral injury is relatively new.  Or the language, at least, of moral injury has only been used in recent years.  PTSD is not moral injury, and moral injury is not PTSD.  The cause of PTSD is what our circumstances do to us.  Moral injury is what our behavior does to ourselves.  Get the difference?

Moral injury results from a failure of self care.  

We have said in the several preceding emails that self-care involves paying attention to how small or large we draw our circle of care.  When we draw that too narrowly we violate the law of love in human nature.  We are made to love, and when we don’t do that, we deteriorate as human beings.  We flourish when we do to others as we would have them do to us, and when we don’t we don’t.  It’s that terribly simple. 

When we draw the circle of caring for others too narrowly, self care suffers and moral injury results.  There are no exceptions to this, no way to escape it.  But how we wish there were, don’t we!

So a couple of questions arise from this line of thought.  An immediate obvious question is this:  How do we know when we are suffering, have suffered, moral injury?  It might not be easy to tell.  But it’s a fair guess that we will know more if we are aware and pay attention than if we don’t.  So we choose awareness. 

Another question is whether our responses to our current circumstances are inviting or warding off moral injury.  To that we can return.

But still another question is whether we have experienced moral injury in the past and are carrying it with us.  That’s a big one, and if the concept itself of moral injury is new to us, attention to that would seem especially important.  Let’s proceed to explore this a little.  

The harm that others do to us can cause PTSD.  The harm that we do to others causes moral injury to ourselves.  

Start with this:  we do harm to others.  None of us are perfect.  Life is not easy, we don’t always get it right, and we do hurt people.  Often unwittingly, unknowingly, ignorantly.  But to excuse ourselves for not being perfect should not be turned into not needing to try to do better, is that right?  

We are therefore talking about the crucial need for a certain amount of self-awareness and self-criticism.
The COVID-19 event is reminding us of how inter-connected we are as humans.  I am about to expand on that a little, drawing out some implications in time and space, for the past and the planet.

Racism is a process of drawing the circle of caring too narrowly.  It says “I’m in, you’re out.”  Racism is a case of failed self and soul care, and it causes moral injury.  A racist person is a morally damaged and diminished person.  We might like to deny that, we may wish to be an exception to that, but it won’t work.   

Sexism is another process of drawing the circle of caring too narrowly.  It says, my sex is superior; and as we know, that has usually taken the form of male sex is superior.  Doesn’t work; moral injury occurs. 

Nationalism is a process of drawing the circle of caring too narrowly.  “May my country always be right, but my country right or wrong.”  “Our country, love it or leave it.”  Nationalism is a scourge of the world today.  It does more damage than coronavarus plagues.  Yes, it has done more damage than coronavarus plagues.  Therefore fear nationalism—fear it very much.  And I’m not talking about their nationalism, I’m talking about ours.  We have been morally injured by nationalism, more than we know or want to know.  But without knowing we walk on in darkness to self-destruction.  

So we are going  to look at nationalism and how sick we are because of it.  Jump off now if you are unwilling to look at this failure of soul care and wish instead to carry the sickness unto death
Here are some daily readings which I recommend from Richard Rohr  Scroll down this page until you find “Most Recent Post” and read his “Path of Descent.”  Our look at nationalism and moral injury will probably be experienced as a kind of path of descent.