Responsibility, Reparation, and Forgiveness

I often work with couples and families, and inevitably, they bring hurts to heal in our work together. The work of healing includes finding stories that allow for forgiveness without requiring  forgetting.

A couple of weeks ago I chanced upon a blog post by Practical Narrative Therapy. The post was a discussion of forgiveness and story in narrative practice, and said in part:

An implicit question of all of this talk of forgiveness is, what are the “forgiveness stories” held by the two partners? That is, from their experiences, what are their pictures of what forgiveness is and how it’s supposed to happen? How do those stories shape what is said and done, and the steps taken? How do they influence each person’s understanding of what it means, and looks like, to “truly” be sorry for what one has done? It’s not hard to imagine that much of the work for a given couple may be just in deciphering the forgiveness stories they’ve brought to their relationship, and then figuring out a forgiveness story or forgiveness language that works for both of them.

The work of forgiveness in relationships requires relational acts.  If a relationship is to be healed, responsibility and reparation are as much requirements as forgiveness. (This is just as true of relationships between cultural or ethnic groups.)  When the hurt involves acts of violence, in any form, responsibility talking and reparation are necessary to address fear and hurt, and to create space for safety, healing, and forgiveness. Such acts are, of necessity, acts of courage and contrition that may forge the way to new stories, narratives that allow the relationship to truly heal.

Still, there are forces at play in every relationship, in every culture, that mitigate against truth-telling, responsibility, and reparation. For instance, last week, the CUNY Board of Trustees to prohibit the awarding of an Honorary Doctorate to Tony Kurshner. Their rationale was apparently Kurshner’s public acknowledgement of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel during the 1948 war. Kurshner, who is Jewish and writes from that  Prophetic tradition, a tradition that includes Abraham Joshua Heschel, has written several plays, most famously, Angels In America. The Angels cycle of three plays chronicles the indifference of the Regan Administration to the plight of tens of thousands of people who became ill or died during the first decade of the  AIDS crisis. Kurshner’s comments on the State of Israel’s use of ethnic cleansing seem congruent with his ongoing critique of governmental violence , and his calls for governments to acknowledge responsibility, and make reparation for, the wrongs they have committed. Mr. Kushner was apparently punished for truth-telling, yet how can healing happen without all sides telling the truth about their behavior? (As I write, word comes that the Board of Trustees has voted to reverse its previous decision.)

As if to underscore Mr. Kurshner’s concerns, reports from Israel this weekend detail the ongoing displacement of Palestinian Bedouins, one of the region’s Indigenous peoples. Thefreeonline passed along the following news story:

By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours UMM AL-HIERAN, Israel, May 9, 2011 (IPS) – As plans to demolish a Palestinian Bedouin village to make way for a new, Jewish-only town move forward in Israel’s Negev desert, the Bedouin residents have submitted a motion for the right to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.

Located about 30 minutes from the major town of Beer Sheva, Umm al-Hieran is one of many so-called “unrecognised” Bedouin villages peppering the Negev area that don’t receive basic services or infrastructure from the Israeli state.

via MIDEAST: The Indigenous Become Squatters – IPS

(Closer to home, this weekend Intercontinental Cry published a partial, lengthy list of Native American sacred sites currently threatened with desecration or destruction.)

Least these issues seem simple, let us remember that many of us are the biological and/or cultural offspring of intercultural conflict, and sometimes, of love in the face of such conflict. The conflicts that are enacted out in the world become much more complex when internalized within psyche. Who is the aggressor? Who should make reparation? Who is called on to forgive? Ultimately, acts of violence, whether personal or genocidal, filter down to the family, the individual, and psyche. In their aftermath is complexity.

I thought Nativeappropraitions caught this well:

I’m fully aware of the fact that if it weren’t for intermarriage between Natives and non-Natives, I wouldn’t exist. I’m proud of all of my heritages, and proud that I can be unique in my Cherokee/Armenian/Irish/Welsh/German-ness (though, apparently Cher is Cherokee/White/Armenian, so maybe not so unique). I love that my family traditions and holidays are imbued with Armenian food and traditions, but that I can go to stomp dances in Oklahoma and feel equally connected. But when I think about my future, and my future children, the whole thing gets complicated.

I find myself wondering how we  might, as families and societies, tell stories that allow for pride in diverse heritages, ownership of responsibility for hurt and injustice, reparation, and forgiveness. Maybe we can learn something from the couples and families who bravely struggle to find healing and forgiveness, and the peoples of countries such as South Africa, South Korea, and Rwanda, and on a smaller scale, Canada, that have begun this task. One thing seems sure: we are unlikely to make much headway until acts of violence, be they physical, sexual, or emotional, within couples or families, or large-scale such as genocide and ethnic cleansing, stop, their harm is acknowledged, and reparation is made.

2 thoughts on “Responsibility, Reparation, and Forgiveness

  1. Accepting the (unconscious) Shadow dwelling within each and every human begins with seeing it projected onto the “others” (Palestinians, Jews, Native Americans) and awareness that its source is within the perceiver. I am the source of my projections and only I can embrace the rejected, repressed, and dishonored parts of my psyche. If we extend the awareness that we are all connected (evidence in the documentary I Am), it follows that I embrace others when I embrace my inner Shadow. This is just the first step in reconciliation, but apparently a necessary one.

    1. Thanks, Michael,

      In a polarized world, shadow work becomes ever more important, and yes, finding compassion for rejected parts of self is central to that work. Finding the balance between inner work, and social engagement may be another part of the work, and allows us to engage with others in active relationship.

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