How America can repair its moral compass

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Getty Images | Martin Wheeler/Eye Em
Jean Oelwang
by Jean Oelwang
11 January 2021
Like most Americans, I’m shocked and saddened by the mob who attacked the US Capitol, killed a police officer, and injured many other law enforcement officers.

Jean Oelwang is the President and Founding CEO of Virgin Unite. Below Jean shares why now is the moment to come together and act to address and change the root causes of racial inequity, division, and suffering.

I cannot even begin to imagine how our fellow Black and Brown Americans must feel after seeing the despicable re-enactment of the murder of George Floyd, the noose, and the flying of the Confederate flag in our Capitol. Horrific reminders of just how badly our moral compass is broken.

This was not a one-off incident. The forces that drove it will not go away with a new government. We cannot band-aid the issues as our country bleeds to death.

We need to change the systems and the root causes that have led us to this place of moral depravity. This must start with no tolerance for any group that is based on domination of others. The white supremacist, misogynist groups – any extremist collective that is calling for outsized rights that will diminish another part of our American family – must be stopped in their tracks. Domination is not freedom for all, it is not what will make this country great. It will perpetuate the division, the fear and the injustice that are ripping our country apart.

We must also look at many of the underlying systems that widen the inequality gap, like capitalism, which is in dire need of reform to ensure it gives a fair go to all Americans and protects the natural systems that keep us alive.

To move forward, we need to acknowledge our history. Black and Brown Americans and Native Americans are not asking for outsized rights. For decades, they’ve been simply asking for equal rights. Undermining of their rights began at the start of our nation when we confiscated Indigenous lands and when the first slave ships arrived on our shores. This oppression has continued for generations, often hidden in the guise of systems that created a pretence of equality, but kept injustice, segregation, and discrimination alive. Now is the moment to come together and act to address and change the root causes of racial inequity, division, and suffering.

The world is not just looking in horror at the raid of the US Capitol, they are watching a nation in moral decay. In the week before President-elect Biden is inaugurated, the Trump administration plans to carry out three more executions, bringing the death toll of this federal killing spree to 13 people over the last seven months. Certainly, no one condones the horrific crimes these human beings were convicted of. But does another act of violence really bring justice?

Whether you oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, are concerned about waste of taxpayer funds, the potential killing of innocent people, or the perpetuation of pain for everyone involved - what is clear is that America is the only democracy among an infamous club of countries that continue to execute our own citizens at scale, including China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt. Is this what we want to be known for on the world stage? A country out of control that continues to fan the flames of violence through barbaric acts like the death penalty?

The good news is that we can fix this. We can move forward to create a nation we are all proud to be part of.

It begins with fostering a culture of healthy discourse and listening. We will never agree on everything, but we can build a nation where respect, trust and our common humanity are held sacred so we can work towards third way solutions that will end the vicious cycle of division, polarisation, and mistrust.

Ultimately this is not just about governments and systems. We are a nation that has glorified individual achievement, driving the pursuit of self-interest at all cost. Perhaps the answer is to start glorifying collective achievement and compassionate empathy for one another - in our schools, in our companies, in our government.

We need a revolution of social values. With every single one of us taking responsibility to repair our broken moral compass by living in service of others with grace, kindness, and love.