Friday, October 8, 2010

Reflecting on forgiveness

It always seems such a dignified event to attend the Sol Kanee Lectures on Peace and Justice at the University of Manitoba sponsored by the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice at St. Paul’s College.

This time the visiting guest from South Africa, Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, presented an hour-long lecture on Narratives of Dialogue and Healing: Stories of remorse and forgiveness in the aftermath of mass trauma and violence.

Gobodo-Madikizela describes herself as an engaged global citizen. She served on the Human Rights Violation Committee of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission as coordinator of public hearings in the Western Cape. She facilitates private encounters between perpetrators of gross human rights violations and their victims. From this experience she focuses her research on the role of forgiveness in the aftermath of mass trauma and violence. Her credentials are impressive; her work already spans the globe.

At the very last minute a victim friend (and I am truly sorry to describe her that way because she is more of a survivor than victim) came along with me and two other colleagues.

After an amazing musical number entitled Lipstick and War by Norma Sibanda, Gobodo-Madikizela began her lecture by defining forgiveness. She challenged the thought that any atrocity could be considered unforgiveable. She encouraged us to open our moral imaginations to believe that when we can engage with the “other”, no matter who the “other” might be, there can be hope of reconciliation. She said that forgiveness needed to start with remorse. She was all about dialogue.

She was brilliant, her words and stories inspiring, easy to listen to. As Nelson Mandela has said, “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named goodness and forgiveness.”

Later my friend and I had a cup of decaffeinated coffee in my office to debrief. We closed the door. “What do you really think?” I asked her.

For my friend, forgiveness means survival. She has just learned over the summer that when she forgives she can breathe more easily. For her, to forgive has meant healing and a new lease on life.

We agree that theory is great for finding the right words, but the reality of it is that we not only need words, we need to survive. Our personal atrocities aren’t politically motivated; they are slightly different than the ones described earlier. So, as another good friend always reminds me, we need to make it more than theory. We need to apply this to our personal lives. We need the stories of others to challenge us to re-examine our own.

Neither of us have a hope of an apology or any show of remorse from the person who has murdered our love one. Can we still participate in forgiveness therapy? If not how do we survive?

I know Gobodo-Madikizela, who is all about dialogue, would have enjoyed the long and intense discussion behind closed doors as both of us defined again for ourselves how we will survive.

On a level of simple personal survival, understanding and forgiveness are crucial... whether in an intimate personal relationship or on a global level.Edward Albert

Wilma Derksen

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