The Riverdale Community Hospital was at a crossroads in its 125 year history. The hospital was on the verge of losing its accreditation. This would mean that most services would be discontinued, and the hospital would become a shell of its former existence. The problem was money to rehabilitate the hospital. The money simply didn’t exist.

The Diamond Charitable Trust had pledged a major gift to build a new hospital. The Trust had incredible resources generated by the entrepreneurial efforts of Willard Diamond. At one time Diamond controlled the production of most of the nation’s plumbing supplies. Diamond ran a tough business and refused to grant pensions or healthcare benefits to his employees. The manufacturing of the plumbing fixtures was also an environmental hazard (lead, chrome contamination). His employees had extraordinary high rates of cancer deaths.

As Gloria Connor was putting together her thoughts for the Board of Trustees of the hospital, she wondered about the spirit of the gift, “Is this a charitable gift or a wish for atonement from the grave?” she thought. What kept creeping into her conscious was the long, lingering death of her father from cancer. He was an employee at Diamond’s factory for 30 years.

How does a society atone for past transgressions? Think of the issue that Connor faces. Can she do anything with the gift to make it up to families who lost loved ones? Societies face the same issue. How do we make it up to those who have been harmed? Often the harm has been well into the past. Do we try to make it up to their ancestors (if known)? Or do we try to atone to those who share an identity based upon race, ethnicity, or other traits? What qualifies for atonement? Certainly the employees of William Diamond who died of diseases related to their work would qualify. What about denial of basic rights (education, voting, etc.)? And what about the nature of the atonement? Is it money? Would a Presidential proclamation be sufficient?

The above are tough questions. Obviously a society can ignore them using the rationale that to address them would open old wounds. Should the questions get addressed, what principles might guide the answer?

Just imagine the factors necessary to address the issue of atonement? Just imagine the debate that would result from addressing these issues? Would the debate be educational and redemptive or degrading to those for whom the atonement is addressed? Just imagine whether the discussion of atonement could be helpful in preventing current situations from evolving into cases where future atonement may be necessary?

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“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn but jot easily mended.” – Ian McEwan (author)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.