Lately, Ruth and I have spent a lot of time talking about codependency. It’s an issue for both of us in varying doses. And, more and more, I’m seeing that our country has a codependent problem.
Codependency is “a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as ‘relationship addiction’ because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics.”
Codependency comes in a bunch of different shapes and sizes. One trait is a compulsion to help others even at the expense of harming yourself. Looked at in a certain way, that can seem like a good thing. But, codependency is not the same as leaping to someone’s aid in an emergency. It is seeing what’s wrong with everyone else and doing nothing to address those problems in your own life. Codependency is running away from yourself. It’s a compulsion, an addiction, an avoidance based not in health, prosperity or happiness but in fear.
Our country has a codependency problem.
We would much rather point fingers at or leap to the aid or attack of foreign countries and organizations than to look inside our own borders or to dig deep enough in our own history to see that, as much as this great nation was built on brave soldiers, it was built on the oppression of ethnic minorities. We forced Africans into slavery far, far longer than most other “civilized” countries which led to a boost in our economy, we built our railroads on the backs and the abuse of Chinese immigrants which led to our advancements in transportation and industry and, from our very beginnings, we continually disregarded promises made to Native Americans to take part in one of the most complete cases of genocide the world has known until we were stopped by the Pacific Ocean.
And, yes, I understand that’s the past and that the base of our nation’s wound happened too long ago for any of us alive today to have taken part in. But, that does not mean that we’re not scarred by it. We all are. Why? Because we’re American and that’s our history. We were born scarred by it. Scars do not heal. They shouldn’t. They’re reminders. We seem to understand this when it’s applied to soldiers and their sacrifices.
But, when it comes to our cruel and unjust history, we would rather outrun it. And of course we would because it’s easier that way. History is nice and reverent when we remember only the presidents and the names of generals who led valiant battles hundreds of years ago. It’s much easier to stomach and be proud of than to remember the names of murdered Native Americans, African Americans and Immigrant Laborers. But, go to Wikipedia and look up just about any day of the year and you’re likely to find some sort of American minority/civil liberty abuse listed in the events (for instance, type in June 20 for today and you’ll come across the Detroit Race Riot of 1943).
We want to think of riots and murders and assassinations as isolated events that are already over. We want to swallow it quickly and then cover the taste with something sweet and wholesome and patriotic because the core of our country is made of good things. We want to believe that if we push the bad memories away and do not focus on them, they’ll get better. And we distract ourselves by…hey, look over there! There’s another country that’s not democratic and just!
And, more and more, we’re treating very recent events like they’re already over and we should move on. We do not give sufficient space in our children’s history textbooks to talk about oppressive actions in our country and the martyrs that lost their lives for those causes, but we’ll gladly fly a flag that symbolized oppression on public display or gather to cheer on sports teams who proudly use slurred names and images. We want the minorities to forget the oppression and, furthermore, we want them to view the symbols of that oppression as worthwhile symbols of our country to remember.
You cannot fix the past. But, you can remember it and, if you want anything to improve, you need to remember it. And, you know what, you can do more than that. You can question if we missed something. You can question if we’ve sufficiently apologized for the past. And who should we question? Members of the minorities that we abused. We should ask them, “Have we done enough?” We should give them the respect that they understand much more than members of the majority what happened to their people and what is currently happening.
Another trait of codependency is wanting to remember only the good and not focusing on the bad. We are a codependent nation because we choose to look at only the good in our parent generations. This is fueled, not by positivity, but by the fear of losing that generation’s love. We are afraid to lose the respect of our country by looking too far into our country’s history. We are afraid that we won’t belong. And there’s safety in belonging. So, we strengthen our muscle of ignoring which then leads to repetition of our parent generations’ problems and, furthermore, we ignore our own negative feelings about life. We try to control the negative. And, as long as things do not get too chaotic, we do not have to look inside ourselves and change. So the art of ignoring continues to be passed on from generation to generation. And we continue to shut down any argument whose outcome we don’t have control over. Most people do this not with malice but with a true belief that they would never hurt anyone. Not an African American, not a Native American. So, yes, a slave master was in the wrong, but I didn’t do that. But, people were directly affected by slavery and their children are still feeling the repercussions of it. To the child of an alcoholic, you can’t just look at them and say, “but, that’s over.” They were affected. And there’s work to be done to heal.
Right now, we are the only ones left to make amends.
We are afraid to admit to the wrong that our country has done, the racism and the classism that is interweaved in our nation’s history. We are afraid to admit to and truly address the names of the dead and the ways they were killed and the lives they were forced to lead so that our country could “advance.”
But, that’s the trick to codependency. Admitting and realizing how deep this problem is leads to change, leads to improvement. Looking into the darkness in our country’s history and deeply accepting and understanding it is the only way we will heal. How and in what form? I don’t know. And we will never know until each one of us takes the responsibility into our own hands to understand what it is to truly be an American.
We can believe in the core and the heart of our country and still recognize the disparity and the scars. And, in fact, we must do that.
Originally Posted On Facebook.