Thursday, July 07, 2005

What is Reconciliation?

(The following document was generated by the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners in response to numerous questions from community members about why, who, how, and what the TRC is reconciling. The document is a bit long, but comes from serious deliberation among Commissioners and represents significant deliberations in that diverse body, so I hope it will be worth it to work your way through it. Let us know if you have any questions, responses, or different opinions.)

We all want to live in a loving, just and sustainable community. We want to live where the rights, dignity and sacredness of all people are valued. When any person has been harmed by the actions of another, we all need to work together in order to find a way to help that person heal. This is especially important when someone harms a group of people. It becomes even more important when that harm has been both intentional and long lasting.

Reconciliation means to bring together those parts that were torn apart and make them whole again. Reconciliation means to repair the brokenness in our community.

Reconciliation does not happen all at once. It takes time. There has to be a process, with many individual steps. The first step is to find out what is the truth. What actually happened? How did those events in the past cause harm to people in our community? In what way were they harmed? This is not an easy task. Each person involved will have his or her own story about what actually happened. Each person may feel strongly that they are telling the truth, even when one person’s version differs from another person’s version. However, when all of the various versions of the truth are told clearly, and harmonized, we can finally understand the whole truth.

Communities are made up not only by people, but also by institutions. When people within a community are hurt by violence or oppression, institutions often are involved. This means that institutions must be part of the truth telling and part of the reconciliation that follows.

Once we tell and understand the whole truth, we then can take the next steps toward reconciliation. We can describe clearly the harm that was done, to individuals and to groups. We can explain how the actions of the past caused harm. We also can show how that harm continues to cause problems in the community. We can understand how the on-going harm leads to mistrust, fear, and division. This is what we mean when we speak of a broken community.

Knowing the whole truth helps individuals, groups, and institutions who caused the harm to face what they have done. Sometimes, until the whole truth has been uncovered, those who did the harm are unable to see how their actions hurt other people. They are not able to see that their actions also hurt the community.

Several things must happen for reconciliation to be fully achieved:

· Those who have hurt others need to understand just how their actions caused harm. Sometimes the harm is physical. Other times it is emotional, cultural, or spiritual. Often, the harm has economic consequences.
· Once those who hurt others understand the harm they have done, they should be supported in their efforts to apologize, and in so far as possible, to undo the harm.
· The community that works for reconciliation should create ways in which those who have done harm and those who were harmed can talk honestly to one another. This will make it easier for there to be healing between them.
· Sometimes, we will discover that certain social conditions or public policies allowed people to harm others. In some cases, community institutions may even have encouraged the harm. When this is the case, we should take steps to change these social conditions or public policies so they may never contribute to harming others again.
· As more and more people learn the whole truth, they should be encouraged to see how they may have participated, unknowingly, in the problem. It may be that they stood by and did nothing to stop the harm. Perhaps they shared attitudes that indirectly suggested it was OK to act in harmful ways. When people know these things, they are less likely to support hurtful behavior in the future.
· Once the people of a community have gone through a process of discovering the whole truth about a hurtful event in their past, they will be more aware of the signs that problems exist. In the future, they will be more able to prevent people from doing harmful things.

We believe that we must work together in order to make our society more just. We think that justice is the way a society expresses love toward the people who are part of that society. In an ideal society, each person will act in a just and loving way toward all the other people in that society. When harm is done, we all work together to undo the damage. That is reconciliation. It also is real justice.

Unresolved past hurtful events divide a community. We can help the people in such a community reunite in common purpose by seeking truth and working for reconciliation. A reconciled community will be a strong community, where people work together for the common good.

posted by Jill Williams, Exec. Dir.


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