The Journey of Forgiveness, Rehumanizing the Other and the Choice to Forgive
Recognizing the other’s story is at the heart of rehumanizing the one who harmed you and to moving toward a decision to forgive, as noted in Olga Botcharova’s diagram in Chapter 4. Carolyn Yoder says, “The universal cry, ‘Why me?’ or ‘Why us?’ reflects the longing to find reason and meaning in difficult life events. Yet continually asking these often unanswerable questions keeps us stuck. Together with suppressed fears, these questions provoke the greatest anger at everything and everyone associated with the perpetrator. To restore the ability to think rationally, the question needs to be reframed to ‘Why them: Why did they do it, and why did they do it to us?’ This reframing opens the way to search for root causes and to acknowledge that the other, the enemy, also has a story.”
This reframing is not about condoning what happened, but it does offer a way forward. Life is always more complex than individual narratives. The “enemies” are fellow human beings, children of God. In the story of the person who harmed us we find the lessons of interconnections and interdependence. We develop an understanding that allows us to act rationally. It can even yield compassion.
Rehumanization between the English and Irish
The lives of Jo Berry and Patrick Magee were brought together by the Brighton hotel bombing of the Tory Conference in 1984 in Brighton, England. Patrick Magee, an activist with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was given multiple life sentences for the bombing. Jo Berry’s father, Sir Anthony Berry MP, was killed in the bombing.
The ongoing conflict and struggle for peace in Northern Ireland was punctuated by acts of violence and multiple attempts to wage peace throughout most of the 20th century. The 1999 “Good Friday Agreement” marked a significant step toward peace. One aspect of the agreement included the release of Patrick Magee and other activists who had been incarcerated.
For Jo and Patrick, we witness the reframing and rehumanizing of the one who has harmed. In Jo’s words:
I wanted to meet Pat to put a face to the enemy, and see him as a real human being. At our first meeting I was terrified, but I wanted to acknowledge the courage it had taken him to meet me. We talked with an extraordinary intensity. I shared a lot about my father, while Pat told me some of his story. Over the past two and a half years of getting to know Pat, I feel I’ve been recovering some of the humanity I lost when that bomb went off. Pat is also on a journey to recover his humanity. I know that he sometimes finds it hard to live with the knowledge that he cares for the daughter of someone he killed through his terrorist actions. Perhaps more than anything I’ve realised that no matter which side of the conflict you’re on, had we all lived each other’s lives, we could all have done what the other did.
Jo and Pat now work together in efforts to curb violence and work for peace through the organization, Building Bridges for Peace.
Listen to another story of reconciliation in Northern Ireland: http://theforgivenessproject.com/stories/anne-gallagher-northern-ireland/
Bearing and Hearing Witness
What about seemingly unforgivable acts — atrocities against humanity, the Rwanda genocide, the Holocaust, the raping of women and girls, profiting from impoverishment of peoples and resources? We must name these evils and oppose them.
And what about the strong formation in many of our communities to have women forgive quickly? We must be honest and enter authentic and full journeys together.
The very act of bearing witness to harm and trauma and atrocities is part of the journey toward reconciliation. We must bear witness and hear witness. We must continue to set the table and expect that when we are lost, there is the possibility of being found.
As Desmond Tutu says, there is “no future without forgiveness.” In the spirit of ubuntu we are who we are because of our relationships. When I dehumanize you, I dehumanize myself. We exist in a web of interconnected relationships with one another and God’s creation. If we, all of us, are in the heart of God, God’s own creation, then how can we do otherwise?
Forgiveness is a journey with no single script; it is a choice. It is a choice that cannot be coerced or manipulated. Forgiveness is primarily a gift we give ourselves. It is a way we reassert our power and our dignity. It is also a gift we give the other. The capacity to offer and receive forgiveness is critical to breaking the cycles of woundedness, retribution and violence. Forgiveness is not reconciliation, but for Bishop Tutu it is the only way to reconciliation.