Creating a Culture of Peace

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Reconciliation

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She held her peace sign high. Then, with considerable force, she smashed it into the head of a menacing counter protester! Others watched in horror and then restrained her until she relaxed and wept.

Yes, we are passionate about seeking justice and peace. Committed to standing with the victimized and oppressed, we organize, protest, resist, speak out, and in a myriad of ways confront the power holders and those who support them. In frustration and anger we may even hit them over the head with Peace!

The greater challenge may be reconciliation! To restore harmony, union and friendship after we have been estranged. When we respond to inequities of power and identify with the vulnerable and victimized, we seek justice and we take sides. But reconciliation hopes to unite the sides. Does it forfeit justice? How do we understand reconciliation? What does it entail? And do we practice it?

According to John Paul Lederach, the theory, study and practice of reconciliation are just beginning. Reconciliation includes the standard, visible techniques, steps and roles of conflict resolution that make connections between parties. But reconciliation primarily concerns building the invisible relationships between the parties. Its focus is on people, their experiences, fears and hopes, perspectives and interpretations. Key qualities in the practice and process of reconciliation include building trust, accompanying opponents on the journey, humility in seeking to understand their truth and their capacity, and community restoration. There is no set formula or timetable; it is like wandering and waiting in a desert, struggling together on a path to healing, sometimes for a generation.i

Some victims have held their oppressors accountable, yet moved beyond to offer restored relationships. They may be our best teachers on reconciliation. They are survivors of torture, war, and persecution in the Holocaust, Vietnam and Japan who have initiated constructive relationships with former enemies. They are murder victims families who reject the death penalty and build relationships with killers and killers' families. They are crime victims who restore relationships with perpetrators and communities. They are Western Shoshone, robbed of sacred land for nuclear bomb testing, who build respectful relationships with security officers and so caution protesters to send them love, because "we could as easily be standing where they are." They are South Africans and Rwandans, who suffered apartheid and genocide, yet create formal commissions for truth-telling, remembering, and opportunities for repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. They are families in Israel and Palestine, the U.S., Iraq and Afghanistan, who lost family members in war yet unite with enemy families crying out to end the violence and re-establish peaceful relationships.

According to the restorative justice model, we do not surrender a concern for justice in order to embrace reconciliation. Refusing to hold perpetrators accountable, would be "cheap reconciliation." ii Instead, the model holds offenders responsible for their behavior, empowers victims as active participants, and works toward restoring community. It measures justice differently from the retributive justice model. It shifts the focus from blaming perpetrators and making them pay for wrong doing; it does not administer pain according to systematic rules or through humiliation, ridicule, shaming or banishment. The victim can express hurt, pain, loss, fear and harm caused directly to the offender. The offender is permitted to express shame, sorrow, understanding, or nothing at all. Attention and benefit come to all three: community, victim and offender. Looking beyond revealing the truth and assigning responsibility, the primary goal of restorative justice is to open channels of communication and to repair, restore and reassure relationships.

Opponents are potential allies, friends, colleagues and collaborators, according to Desmond Tutu. He challenges us to plant the seeds of reconciliation all along the way, as we interact with opponents. To find ways to accommodate each others' needs, to make concessions and view them as signs of strength and not weakness, to ensure that no one loses face, to give everyone a chance to begin anew, and to describe one another with respect despite disagreements and opposition. This is not utopian idealism, he insists. Who would have predicted that DeKlerk and Mandela would come to share the same administration in a democratically elected government of National Unity in South Africa? It can be done!iii

Reconciliation is, after all, a matter of the heart. Shelley Douglass writes, "Noncooperation with injustice may include marches, boycotts and tax refusal, but it also includes an inner dimension: the refusal to allow our minds to be manipulated, our hearts to be controlled. Refusing to hate those who are identified as enemies is also noncooperation."iv Reconciliation is inner work that comes from deep listening to opponents and enemies in order to walk in their shoes. It is deep engagement with them based on a belief in our equality, humanity and relatedness. If it can help stem the cycles of violence that are passed through generations, poisoning every child's future and consuming every child's resources, reconciliation is both the great challenge and the promise of great reward.

i Lederach, John Paul, The Journey Toward Reconciliation, 1999.

ii Volf, Miroslav, "Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Justice," Forgiveness and Reconciliation, 2001.

iii Tutu, Desmond, No Future Without Forgiveness, 1999.

iv Douglass, Shelley, "The Power of Noncooperation," From Violence to Wholeness, 1999; Mar/Apr 2004

 

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Phil Stoltzfus, Interim Executive Director
Creating a Culture of Peace
P.O. Box 22217

Robbinsdale, MN  55422

phone:  847-790-4CCP (4227)
email:  info@creatingacultureofpeace.org