During the tenth Anniversary Celebration of Global Peace Imitative for women (GPIW) in Kenya in March 2012, much was said regarding the need for forgiveness and reconciliations between people in nation with a history of violence. Below is an exurb on this topic from GPIW’s report entitled “Awakening the Healing Heart.” (Source: www.gpiw.org)
Dr. Celestin Musekura, the founder and president of the African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (Rwanda) spoke about the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation, and practical psychological steps for effective healing. “Forgiveness is required for reconciliation to take place; it takes place internally, an internal decision you make that allows you to let go of strong emotions against the perpetrator, freeing you to re-think, re-imagine a better future. Giving up the desire to get revenge is essential, and recognizing that the punishment of the other isn’t what will heal you. But reconciliation, the next step, cannot happen internally. It requires two people willing to come close, both willing to let go of anger, resentment and the desire for revenge or punishment.” “Compassion means putting yourself in the place of the other. We have to stop demonizing, dehumanizing the other. Otherwise, lack of forgiveness, lack of compassion, starts to turn the victim into the perpetrator. The greatest tragedy is for the victim to turn into what he hates. So we need to have compassion for the perpetrator. If we fail to be compassionate, if we fail to be forgiving, then we turn ourselves into what we hate most.”
Most striking was Reverend Celestin’s insight that “For us to be whole, we have to own that part of ourselves that is like the perpetrator. Otherwise, those who have been wronged internalize the oppression and become oppressors themselves. It is important to own that part in order to free it in ourselves and the other.” (page5)
Reverend Celestin made a very interesting point, that unless we can admit our common humanity with the perpetrator – allowing us to heal that part within ourselves, and in many cases laying the ground to heal the perpetrator himself – then we are likely to internalize the oppression, and out of revenge, become perpetrators ourselves, or take out our anger on those immediately around us.
The saddest defeat is when, in hating, the victim becomes what he hates. In a strange way, we need to dissolve sides in order neither to be defeated by, nor to become, the other side. This is what forgiveness is – the recognition of our unity, and therefore the ending of retaliatory cycles of violence which are ultimately self-destructive for all sides.
When we act in forgiveness, there may or may not be a direct response from the outside, there may or may not be an apology or reparation in the short term, but at some deep level we have shifted the very ground of the dynamic, traced the rift back from violence and division to its source in human unity. Even if the opening appears to be “only from our own side”, we know that this is an illusion; that ultimately “our side” is intricately bound up with, and thus opens onto, the other’s, and so shifting our position will inevitably shift theirs. (page 13).