Truth and Reconciliation initiatives are not new, but there seems to be new commitment to creating spaces where ordinary people, divided by their personal histories, can listen to each other. Here are a few of these powerful expressions of peacebuilding that can be examined in classes, and links to some resources that provide an understanding of the psychological roots of reconciliation.
The Power of Storytelling
Over and over we are reminded of the power of personal stories to promote empathy and reconciliation. You will find some wonderful videos and links embedded within the articles in this collection, but here are a few more.
• Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi have a powerful friendship born of unthinkable loss. Rodriguez’ son was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001; el-Wafi’s son Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted of a role in those attacks and is serving a life sentence. Both mothers wanted to sought a meeting with the other, and since then found forgiveness and friendship. Watch their Ted’s Talk video below.
• Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling is the home of an oral history project that explores the experiences and memories of Montrealers’ who have been displaced by mass violence, ranging from the Holocaust to the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides, to political violence in Haiti, Latin America and South Asia. The project hopes that the act of listening intently to how these survivors speak of their memories, may bring us to an understanding of what these experiences mean to them and how they can be retold. You can access some of these stories by clicking here.
• The Forgiveness Project is a British initiative that uses the real stories of victims and perpetrators to encourage people to consider alternatives to resentment, retaliation and revenge. The stories in their acclaimed exhibit, The F-Word, reveals that forgiveness is often difficult, costly, and painful, but also potentially transformative. You can read some of the stories here.
• As a result of the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of police officers in the US, the Center for Educational Equity and the Peace and Justice Studies Association have just launched The Truth-Telling Project with the aim of developing a national and community-based conversation on race and class through a truth and reconciliation process. Their website includes some excellent articles by leading American peace educators.
Understanding the Psychology behind Reconciliation: Two Important Approaches
Psychologist Ervin Staub’s life-long commitment to understanding the psychological roots of cruelty, as well as the human capacity to care for others even at risk to themselves, was born out of experience. In 1944, Staub and his family were given protective identity papers by Raoul Wallenberg, which allowed them to flee Nazi-occupied Hungry. He eventually made his way to the US where he studied psychology and is today a Psychology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Founding Director of its Ph.D. concentration in the Psychology of Peace and Violence.
In recent years, Professor Staub has worked extensively in the area of reconciliation, developing a project in Amsterdam to improve Dutch-Muslim relations, one in New Orleans to promote healing and reconciliation in the wake of Katrina, and numerous projects in Rwanda to help promote healing and reconciliation between victims and perpetrators, among others. He has written many articles on the psychological roots of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. You can find many on-line by clicking here.
James Gilligan, the opening keynote speaker to Dawson’s 2011 Conference, Youth and Violence: The Role of Education, has shaped much thinking on the need for a restorative justice approach in criminal justice systems. For 30 years, Dr. Gilligan was a member of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, where he directed the mental health services for the Massachusetts prison system. Dr. Gilligan is recognized worldwide for his promotion of a shift in our perspective on violence from punishment to prevention. His work has revealed how shame and humiliation cause violent behaviour and inhibit the sense of guilty and empathy needed for perpetrators to recognize the suffering they have inflicted on others. You can watch his wonderful keynote talk by clicking here.