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 the world.
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 start.
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 again.
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.