I wrote this paper for my Peace Studies course
last year. Though the discussion was concerning reconciliation between
fragmented groups in society, I recently noticed that the same principles can
also apply to differences between individuals. In the case of people who are
going through a divorce, this theory may still be exercised to foster better
communication for the separating couple.
Definition of Reconciliation
I see reconciliation as the reuniting of people.
This unification occurs only when people have reached communication through
dialogue and actions in order to gain enough understanding and appreciation of
their differences. They no longer try to change each other, they make
retribution for past wrongs, and work toward recognising each other's
differences and embracing the fact that it takes a multitude of diversified
people to contribute to the world in many and varied ways. Each individual's
uniqueness is valid and equally important.
Unfortunately, in many situations, division has
occurred deeply and divisively from years of pent up misunderstandings,
wrongdoings, betrayals, resentments, and hurts. This divisiveness becomes so
ingrained in the psyche of people who have grown up with years of bigotry or
oppression. It is not limited to merely colour, creed and culture. It can also
include children and spouses of domestic violence or socio-economic differences
that segregate people into groups.
Many of these divisions have been occurring in
cultures for centuries. Some are aware of the injustices they live with, but
feel powerless and futile at making changes. Others are born into lives where
for many years they may not even question the oppressions or discrimination that
they have been subjected to, their frustrations may even be subconscious and
internalised. When they awaken to their mistreatments they may feel equal and
sometimes even greater emotions of anger and rage as those that have lived
knowingly with the injustices all along.
It is how this justifiable anger can be properly
applied to make changes that can be most important. Anger not directed toward
making positive changes can evoke even further frustrations and emotions of
futility eventually leading to violence and greater chasms of divisions as the
victim feels like their needs are still not heard or validated.
Who is it that can provide the steps toward
reconciliation? Schreiter points out that it is usually the victim that is the
one with the full understanding of the extent of the injustice. It is the victim
that "possesses the vision, which encompasses both the pain of the past and
the promise of the future," so perhaps it is the victim that needs to take
the lead in the process toward reconciliation. However this is can be an
extremely difficult process without the victim first being willing to forgive.
Martin Luther King believed in approaching his adversary with spiritual love
rather than anger. By doing this the victim can be empowered to take positive
action to have their injustices recognised and needs met in a non-violent
manner. This type of approach with a view to forgiveness can also restore the
humanity and dignity of the victim, a humanity and dignity which was taken from
the victim through violence.
Lederach (1997:29) believes there are four
essential elements, which have to be present in any search for reconciliation;
truth, mercy, justice and peace.
In the last decade of the 20th Century there have
been over thirty Truth and Reconciliation commissions set up in countries around
Truth telling can overcome the lies of the past.
It builds up a complete picture of the circumstances that led to the injustices
which the victim needs to feel is recognised and validated. When the victim is
satisfied that the whole truth has been revealed that are able to establish the
process of healing. Schreiter (15th August 1999) explains that this healing can
transform the memory so that it can be a basis for a better future without
ignoring or forgetting the past.
Perhaps mercy is one of the most difficult
processes for the victim to move through. If they are not satisfied that their
grievances have been acknowledged and understood, they may find it difficult to
just "forgive and forget" and put away the differences to work toward
a united future. In my own beliefs, the doctrine of forgiveness often requires
the assistance of a higher power, be it God or whatever spiritual deity that one
calls upon to give them the grace of forgiveness.
Retributive justice is a punitive form of justice
that is often used in war tribunals and judicial systems. The wrongdoer is
prosecuted and the crime acknowledged by the community and the perpetrator held
accountable. Society publicly states that this behaviour is not acceptable and
will not be tolerated in the future.
Whilst this may be a necessary part of the
reconciliation process, punitive justice may not always leave the victim feeling
vindicated and it is still only one element of the healing process.
Restorative justice emphasises restoring the
sense of humanity to the victim. It attempts to change the situation of the
victim and compensate them either economically or structurally and acknowledges
the obligations that are owed to the victim.
Restorative justice encompasses more of an
understanding of the hurts and how they occurred. It attempts to guide the
offender to realise the ramifications of the wrongdoing at the same time as
validating the injustices suffered by the victim. Rather than take on further
stances, it attempts to unite the parties by mutual respect and understanding.
My conviction is that the process of establishing
true peace can only be attained by fostering true communication between the
parties. Resolutions with coercion and force will not resolve past hurts. They
will continue to fester and resurface in the future.
As discussed by Spence (1999:160), it requires
the commitment of all parties to introduce practices which improve the situation
for all. Lederach (1995b:18) believes that the most important aspect of
peacebuilding is to create a genuine sense of participation, responsibility and
ownership in the process across a broad spectrum of the population.
Australia's indigenous population are still
seeking recognition of past injustices. They feel that the current government is
unwilling to listening. Whilst they seek economic reparation, their greatest
frustrations lie in the feeling that the Australian people have not yet
recognised the transgressions of past injustices, let alone the unfairnesses
that are still continuing today. They feel thwarted by even current day
attitudes such as the very recent "Stolen Generation" inquiries,
mandatory sentencing, continuing black deaths in custody, land rights issues and
inadequate Aboriginal health programs.
Perhaps the first element of reconciliation is
reconciling oneself with oneself spiritually. Regaining self-esteem and
empowerment by controlling ones own sense of belief in themselves is a good
I feel that understanding and recognising a
kindred spirit in all fellow beings is the ultimate step in beginning the peace
process. This recognition that people are "basically good inside" can
go a long way to opening the door and commencing the reconciliation process.
Reconciliation is not effective if it is used as
a means to just "get over it" and move on. For effective
reconciliation the victim needs to feel that the transgressions will not occur
True reconciliation also requires both parties to
grow in awareness beyond the past, so that it will not be repeated. It requires
them to gain a deeper trust and faith in each other. How this is achieved on the
social scale, though difficult to achieve, need not be impossible if each person
is willing first to come to the negotiation table with respect and willingness
to listen to the other's point of view.
John Paul Lederach, 1995, Beyond Violence: Building sustainable Peace, In Arthur Williamson (ed.), Beyond Violence: The Role of Voluntary and Community Action in Building a Sustainable Peace in Northern Ireland, Community Relations Council, Belfast and Centre for Voluntary Action Studies, University of Ulster
Robert Schreiter, "Schreiter's Reconciliation Principle", Encounter, ABC Radio National, Sunday 15th August, 1999
Rebecca Spence, 1999, "Which Way Forward? Processes of Reconciliation', in G. Harris, N. Ahai and R. Spence (eds.), Building Peace in Bougainville, National Research Institute, Papua New Guinea and University of New England Press, pp 154 - 163
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