MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

I am deeply concerned about the moral injury, the psychic wounds, our political leadership is currently inflicting on a new American generation. Two of my grandchildren are currently college age, and a third is in high school. On a daily basis now, intentions that are morally wrong are being transformed into what is being promoted as morally good. This is done deliberately by leaders we have unfortunately elected. Their rationale is that these actions are necessary for the growth and well-being of our society. In an Orwellian kind of transformation, what is plainly evil to most thinking people is deceptively cited as the “right” path to follow for the ultimate good. Biblical quotations are misguidedly used to bolster grandiose speeches. Facts are simply overlooked in a society driven by instilled fear, divisions, and repeated lies.

Thankfully, growing segments of our society are beginning to raise their voices in outrage: Children — no matter where they come from, let alone the color of their skins — should not be forcibly separated from their parents and certainly not, to add insult to injury, without a coherent plan for reuniting them. School children should not have to worry about being shot when they go to school.

In a poetic cry of outrage in his must-read book, The Line Becomes a River, Francisco Cantu draws on his own experience as a border agent and a human being on both sides of the Rio Grande.  He first encountered the term “moral injury,” he explains, in a veteran war reporter’s book called “What Have We Done?” This author, David Wood, “examines the pervasiveness of ‘moral injury’ among soldiers who have returned from the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Cantu explains:

“Long confused with PTSD, moral injury is a more subtle wound, characterized not by flashbacks or a startle complex, but by ‘sorrow, remorse, grief, shame, bitterness, and moral confusion’ that manifest not in physical reactions but in emotional responses as subtle as dreams….” [1]

He makes the point that people do not have to be on battlefields to be exposed to moral injury. It is something that can happen from immoral societal exposure that seeps deeply into individual consciousness. It’s a gradual process. The wounds develop slowly.  

In America we are watching these wounds begin to fester on a daily basis, through the mouths and actions – or inactions — of our leaders. The wounds first show themselves through acts of incivility, even hatred, through acceptance of lying as a new normal, through crazed individuals who take their rage out by shooting innocent people.

As a grandmother and a rabbi, I too am outraged. I know that deliberate moral injury to the generation who will be our future leaders can only have disastrous consequences. We must  — each of us — continue to speak out to sustain our values. And vote with all our conviction.

[1] Francisco Cantu, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018) 150-151.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.