Moving on: healthy or immoral?

13 Sep

In the last few years, a new term has crept into our public discourse,
seemingly innocuous but in fact enormously powerful, the term ‘moving
on’.
I think I first noticed it when our national leader  in Australia
declared that there was no need for an apology to the Stolen
Generations, as he and the  people had moved on.
So too have we moved on from the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction: it doesn’t matter that none were found.
The sensible thing to do, we are told, is to move on.
Moving on is offered to us as the way of life.
And so it is in many important respects.

But might it also be immoral – or at the very least something that we can only do with a troubled conscience?

Those of us who are counsellors or simply friends to someone in grief, someone who has been hurt, victimised,  abused—we know that there is an important point at which a person needs to move on.
But how to move on seems to be crucial to the process of healing.
Last year in South Africa I heard first hand the story of a young woman who, after a decade or so, met with the neighbour who had raped her, to tell him that she forgave him. The young man had been imprisoned and was now released: but she wanted him to be released in terms of their relationship, as well. A journalist observed how such acts of forgiveness were astonishingly common,  she said characteristic, of the new South Africa.
This woman was not claiming to be a moral hero. Nor would she be a victim. She wanted to move on, in a constructive, just way: to recognize the wrong, the hurt, the abuse: and to move on.
There is something really confronting, deeply challenging here. South Africa was guided by the  great Desmond Tutu into seeing that they could not move on, they could not be a new South Africa, without truth and reconciliation.
The nation could not live in freedom without moving to good conscience. The truth had to be told and then reconciliation had to be made. Forgiveness and restoration, not retribution, is the justice they are seeking.
Here, I want to suggest is a deeply challenging issue.
It seems to me vital to say that conscience cannot settle easily. It is necessary in this time that conscience should be troubled, uneasy.
There are things we need to remember. There is a popular misnomer, ‘forgive and forget’. The theologian Paul Tillich  once wrote that to forgive requires in fact that we remember. But it is a particular kind of remembering. I believe Australia needs a lot of remembering.
We need to remember the invasion of this land.
We need to remember the stolen generations, and the genocide of the indigenous nations.
We need to remember the destruction of ecosystems.
We need to remember the injustices to women, to people of Asian origins and cultures, to asylum seekers and homosexuals and people of faiths other than the dominant church religion.
We need to remember the appalling stories of abuse within church institutions.
We need to remember Iraq.
We need to remember Vietnam and the awful despair of the veterans, especially those conscripted for that war.
We need more than dollars and programs of welfare, we need to find a conscience, a troubled, uneasy conscience, and live with that.
I think we need to accept a troubled conscience, an uneasy conscience. Moving on must not mean just copping it or opting out, as if there is nothing we can do.
Moving on must mean a definite commitment  to the truth, to justice, and that means a willingness to work towards right relationships.
This kind of conscientious truthfulness says: here is something we must deal with —this sorrow, this injustice, this deception, this abuse of power or privilege; but that is not all there is: we now must find a way forward together. Then, together, we can move on.

3 thoughts on “Moving on: healthy or immoral?

  1. Ched Myers talks about this in his book ‘Who Will Roll Away the Stone?’ and describes it as denial. In fact, he talks about nations’ denial as being like an individual person’s denial, and the way it damages them psychologically and actually remains there, unconsciously destructive, until it is recognized and dealt with. He’s talking specifically about the US and its history of genocide of Native Americans, but I think it’s so true of our history of genocide of the Australian indigenous people as well. Moving on is not healthy if we carry the baggage, and we always do if it’s not acknowledged and dealt with.

  2. I believe that it is clear in the case of sexual abuse cases that people are not able to “move on” and hence everything in life revolves that fact. I believe the words “it is immoral to just move on” are 100% correct.
    I once heard a story about a girl who was about 2yrs old. Her mum left her at the Home Based Day Care and went to work. The carer after listening to the girl cry for a couple of minutes said to her in a stern voice – “Build a bridge and get over it!!”
    A truer response to disappointment, loss, hurt and abuse is that of forgiveness. But forgiveness is two way. Thank God that when one party refuses to come to the table that Jesus will sit at the table (on the cross) for us and them.
    To me the Lord’s prayer is the true way to respond to these situations – Jesus didn’t say, “Father, teach us to build a bridge and just get over it”. He said forgive us our sins as we forgive others. Without forgiveness there is no moving on.

  3. Yeah, I know a few people who have walked out of relationships because it was time to ‘move on’. Didn’t matter that there were kids left behind or that the ‘innocent party’ was left utterly destroyed (financially, emotionally, etc.). When ‘moving on’ is the excuse it is probably just that… an excuse. Thank goodness that God promises not to ‘move on’ on us.

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