I've been thinking a lot about unity today.
My mother was a lovely, intelligent, good, selfless person. She had enormous heart, and worked hard for 35 years as an SSI rep at the Social Security Administration doing important work to help people who needed help. Disabled and impoverished people in our community were able to get food, clothing, and health care because of her. She had an ongoing, positive impact and I will always admire her for that. She deserved better than to die of cancer just 18 months after she retired.
She always wanted everybody to be happy. She hated war and conflict and wanted the people of the world to unite.
Sadly, she was raised by a family that treated her as an afterthought, so she grew up thinking that certain levels of neglect and abuse were just par for the course. Despite all her heart and her intentions, she just couldn't see certain types of evil because they had been constant background noise her entire life.
And because her family had raised her to think she didn't deserve much, she married an emotionally abusive (and sometimes physically abusive) narcissist. A man who was highly intelligent, educated, handsome and who could be so, so charming and caring when it suited him ... but he could instantly turn cold and cruel and rageful when that suited him. And his life was centered around what suited him.
She loved him anyway; she saw the good in him -- his wit, his generosity, his artistry -- and focused on that. The problem was, in order to do that, she constantly minimized the ways in which he hurt other people.
She also felt a great deal of empathy and sympathy for him; they both grew up without fathers, and they both suffered for it, I think he even more than she. I think she knew he'd been through terrible things and wanted to protect him, because that was her nature. And because he was a narcissist, he was able to exploit her good nature so that she prioritized his feelings and well-being above anybody else's, including hers.
I cannot remember a time when I got along with my father. He was frequently a domineering asshole to me but acted like Dad of the Year when other people were around (standard narcissist behavior, that, but at the time it was just upsetting and confusing and made me doubt my sense of reality). I grew up listening to his self-aggrandizing stories, his tales of How Everything Is Terrible and People Are Out To Get You, his weird paranoid conspiracy theories (those have actually been handy for fiction). If I stepped out of line, he came down on me like a drill sergeant. If he was in a bad mood, my mom and I just had to tiptoe around him, because while he wasn't likely to try to hit us, we knew that was still on the table.
When he lost his job and his private practice wasn't successful, he just quit working entirely. A gentleman taking early retirement from a world that didn't properly respect his wisdom! Even though he was only 49 and he'd racked up a pretty big chunk of debt opening his private practice. My mom with her high school diploma and SSA job was stuck paying off his champagne taste in office equipment for the next decade.
But my mother smiled and persevered, like she always did, because she was determined to make her marriage work, even if she couldn't find a way to demand that her husband step up and go back to work. I'm guessing that the prospect of being a single mother in an isolated town where she had no friends or family for support was utterly terrifying, so looking on the bright side and staying positive seemed like her best option.
If he was cruel to me, if he baited me and I reacted in anger, if he threatened me, she was always quick to tell me that he was my father and he loved me, that he was just having a bad day, that I should rise above and forgive him and focus on the good in him. Over and over and over she told me this. We were a family, we only had each other, and we had to be happy together. Unity.
He sometimes apologized, later. Sometimes tearfully. He could be so contrite, sometimes, and his apologies made the situation about him and his sad feelings. My mom and I had to be unified in patting his hand and telling him it was okay, that he was still a good person. There was never any suggestion that he should actually work to stop acting like a terrible, selfish jackass and stop hurting us.
So these days, when I see calls that two groups should end their conflict and shake hands and learn to get along ... but I also see that the conflict is going on because Group A has been harming Group B, and Group B is fighting back against that abuse? I want to see how Group A plans to acknowledge the harm it's done and change its ways first. Otherwise, that call for unity just sounds like a call for abused people to sit there and smile and take it.