Monday, January 22, 2007


So today is the first day of class. We gathered at 10:15 for our first one, which comes in two parts: 1. Strategies of conflict intervention, community building, andreconciliation; and 2. current events in Northern Ireland. We take it with Mervyn, our program director.

He was talking about forgiveness as it relates to peace and reconciliation, and about how it's a necessary but difficult part of the peace process. He asked us to think about the people who've wronged us in our lives and whether or not we can forgive them.

That's an intersting question for me. On the one hand, I know that forgiving grievous hurts is possible. I think of Tom, and how I honestly harbor no ill will for the people who kidnapped and killed him. I spent more than a hundred days of my life with knots in my stomach, loading and reloading Al-Jazeera in search of news. I still want to cry when I think about the fact that I'll never see him again. But I'm not angry; I'm sad. At least, I'm not angry at the people who killed him. I'm angry at the circumstances that sent him there in the first place. Forgiveness has allowed me to make peace in my own mind with those who hurt me. On a pragmatic level, it takes away their power over me. On a peacebuilding level, it puts me in a position to let go of the past in the interest of building a better future.

But I know that it's not that simple. I think of other wrongs I haven't forgiven. Small things. Petty things. Toxic, selfish people who used me in the name of 'friendship.' Teachers and school administrators who abused their power in the name of 'dicipline.' Decade-old arguments that no one's said 'I'm sorry' for yet. If I can't forgive that, then what right do I have to suggest that people simply move on and get over more than thirty years of violence and nearly a milennium of conflict?

Mervyn made the point that while it's one thing to tell a classroom full of students, or a computer screen, that people need to forgive the past if they want peace, it's another thing entirely to face someone whose son was gunned down by paramilitaries because of his religion and say 'you need to forgive them, because peace is important.'

Even if I've been able to forgive a group of paramilitaries who kidnapped and murdered someone that I care about, I know that it's a hard thing. And I didn't do it for the Swords of Rightiousness. I didn't do it for peace. I did it for Tom. I did it because I know that if he were standing next to me when I got the news, he would have said 'I forgave them. Please don't hate them because of me.' I did it because I knew that I would never be able to honestly embrace the ideals that he died for if I was harboring hate in my heart.

I'm not here to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland. I'm here to study it, and to study the methods people are using to try to solve it. But it seems to me that part of the reconciliation process might be finding something that people will forgive for.

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