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  • Reverend James Squire

WhatAboutism


Photo by Simone Secci


I have often said to kids and adults that kids would make the best therapists in the world. I say this because they are, contrary to popular belief, some of the most transparent group that I have been around. They can also spot a phony a mile away. There is one caveat to this observation. They must trust you. I saw this with groups of students as well in ethics class which was a laboratory to demonstrate this phenomenon. That was why I had to set the trust standard with those who didn’t know me, but I am sure they checked me out with classmates that did. Let me be clear, it was not group therapy. I don’t like those kinds of feelings and thoughts said in a large group, but they could always talk to me one or one if I hit a hot button for them. I let them know this as well. Quite frankly, there were more than a few visits in the office one on one with topics that hit a hot bottom for them because in ethics, you talk about issues that can be uncomfortable for them.


They always had to accept the guidelines in class of one person speaking at a time and no public figures such as fellow students or teachers could be mentioned. No ad hominem words against another person. They could speak about an issue. They had to learn civil discourse which is much needed in today’s culture.


So why was this important to do? Let’s just look at the current phenomenon of whataboutism.

If there was a serious infraction of school rules, I would not be part of the deliberation of the discipline committee as it was my job to talk about next steps particularly if it involved counseling. If I was the student’s advisor I would be in the meeting and then obviously do the follow up.


One example of the importance of trust was when a group of our students violated a major school rule that involved another school. The Headmaster, Jay Crawford, asked the students who were anonymous to meet him at his office on Monday morning at 8. He sent out an announcement to all students. I also did not know the names of any of the students involved. At 7:45 the group of about 8 arrived in my office to tell me they were the guilty parties. I let them speak first. “We want you to walk us to the meeting and stay there. You don’t have to say anything.” The Head of School and I had a very close relationship of trust so I did what the men asked me to do! It was a rough meeting but justice mixed with love prevailed. I have given students their diploma and Bible in my office in the afternoon before graduation when they were expelled during the previous week and not given the privilege of walking with their peers in Chapel for the traditional graduation after working for 12 hard years at our school.


It was not unusual when I would be sitting with the parents and the student before the discipline committee meeting to hear whataboutism. What about Jack/Jane? They did the same thing and didn’t get any discipline? What about the others who were there at the party? What about those people?


I was driving this morning when I listened on NPR to an interview with one of the leaders of Hamas. He said (whatboutism) what about the Jews? They gave us the day to leave when the border would be opened. They slaughtered the people, young, old, and children as they left.


(whataboutism) What about the outdoor prison of oppression that we have been living in for decades? What about the way the Jews have not listened to the warnings of the United Nations about that oppression and said that they should stop. Nothing was done!


(whataboutism) What about Hamas’ desire to have us destroyed and the land returned to them? What about their guidelines for citizens to be spared when they begin their attack at a civilian music festival?


Whataboutism is about to make sure that someone knows the other side of the story. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the first moral declarations is, “It’s not fair.” Young people have a heightened awareness of justice that stays with them, for more or less, as they journey through life.


Recently, I have written again about a key perspective that I gave my students. “We tolerate NOT AGREE WITH that which we understand.


THE ANTIDOTE TO WHATABOUTISM IS UNDERSTANDING.


Fortunately, we have President Biden going to Israel. If you want a nightmare, consider Trump doing that who has already issued statements undercutting Israel and their President (even though he is currently being considered as someone that should be removed from office.) Biden has a tough path, but notice what he has done. He is landing in Israel but he is meeting with BOTH LEADERS REPRESENTING ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS. THE CHALLENGE IS THAT BOTH THE ISRAELIS AND THE PALESTINIANS AS WELL AS JEWS AND PALESTINIANS IN OUR COUNTY IS THAT THEY UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION BUT CAN NOT OR WILL NOT TOLERATE IT.


THE ANSWER IS TO FIND A WAY WHERE JUSTICE AND LOVE (AT ITS DIFFERENT LEVELS INCLUDING AGAPE, GOD’S LOVE), TO FIND A PLACE TO BE PRESENT. THAT IS THE ONLY WAY FORWARD.


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