Conscious Movement Towards Collective Action: The Impact of a Political Forgiveness Process

The unprovoked and barbaric war brought within the borders of Ukraine, and Europe, by a Russian dictator has succeeded in uniting the world in an unprecedented way. We all look on in horror at Russia’s aggression as it has unleashed massive human suffering, death, and wholesale destruction on Ukraine and its people. The barbaric actions of Russia should trouble us all and deserves to be a focus of international attention, front and center in all our minds. It is important that the media, politicians, and all people rally together to help support the Ukrainian people. What we are seeing in reaction to the horrific aggression is international collective cohesion that hasn’t been seen in a very long time, the challenge is sustaining this cohesion and using it as a template for action moving forward. 

There is a danger of short memories, have we forgotten Putin’s attack in Syria which unleashed great pain and resulted in a surge of refugees fleeing for their lives? There are other conflicts and humanitarian disasters around the world which are no less legitimate and deserve attention as well. The war in Yemen, conflict across Africa, the barbaric actions of a military junta in Myanmar. A similar collective response and action is required to address these situations and relieve human suffering. Ukraine is at the forefront of minds right now, it is receiving the necessary coverage in media, parliaments and in general discourse across the world, other situations are not getting the necessary coverage. This partly reflects an unconscious bias at play which it is important to gain an understanding of. 

What are unconscious biases and why do we have them? Unconscious biases are social stereotypes and beliefs that we hold about situations and groups of people that are formed outside individuals own conscious awareness. Everyone has unconscious beliefs about various situations, social and identity groups which are triggered by our brain automatically making quick judgments and assessments. They are influenced by our background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes, and cultural context. Ukraine is a country the western world can identify with and a country which wants to belong to the Western Bloc of nations and the European Union. It is an independent democratic state, based on a set of ideals and people may feel they can relate to the way of life and how society works as it is like their own. Other countries with different ideals and political systems, such as Yemen for example, and countries in Africa or Asia dealing with humanitarian crises may be seen as not as relatable. People may not see enough of themselves in these situations and this can affect how people react to these situations. 

It is a natural human reaction to pay more attention to people who seem more like us even if we are not aware of it. This is unconscious bias at play. The media coverage of the war in Ukraine has showcased the huge disparity in how certain conflicts or humanitarian disasters are reported, often showing conscious rather than unconscious bias. As a French news personality recently said, “We are not talking about Syrians fleeing bombs of the Syrian regime backed by Putin; we are talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives”. This is not unconscious bias; this is very conscious bias and it is shameful. If we examine this statement, he is saying that Syrians fleeing death and devastation don’t matter as much as people who look like Western populations fleeing death and devastation. Coverage framed by this sort of conscious bias has a role to play in creating unconscious bias in viewers. 

The BBC reported a former Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine commenting, “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed every day”. Biases have not only been seen in the media, politicians’ comments too reflected unconscious biases. The Bulgarian Prime Minister said Ukrainian refugees are “intelligent, they are educated . . . not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, they could have been terrorists”. These sorts of comments show that some believe human suffering and devastation is a more serious issue when white Europeans suffer than when people from different backgrounds and locations suffer whether that be Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, or Yeminis.  This is something which is repugnant and should be called out as such. Human suffering is human suffering and all people are equal no matter where they originate. Look at all the conflicts that are not getting the responsiveness they warrant. The actions taken in Ukraine can be applied to many of these conflicts. What we can take from this situation is an unprecedented cohesive collective response from the international community. What we have learned is that a collective response is far more effective than isolated responses by individual nations. It shows how powerful that response can be. It is a template to bring forward and one which should be applied to all human suffering and disasters around the world whether it be the result of conflict or natural disaster. We are stronger united, we can do more good untied and we can create a better world united.

Russia is a case in point, especially when one considers the military might and significant resources of Russia being thwarted by the response of the international community in relation to sanctions, military and humanitarian aid, and the bravery and will of the Ukrainian people. This collective cohesive action has shown that just because a superpower decides to invade another country, they will not necessarily get their way. The result of this collective action has crippled Russia and its economy, led to some withdrawal from Ukraine and will ultimately lead to defeat in their objectives. 

Applying these lessons of collective, cohesive action in Ukraine and using what was learned in other conflicts can show the United Nations a way forward. It can show the United Nations what it can be doing and what it was designed to do – to be that collective solution. The response to Ukraine has highlighted that. Although there are elements in the United Nations which have no interest in a collective response, other countries have shown that if you consider collective action and apply it to other conflict-ridden countries progress can be achieved. This is what the world needs today. 

When we speak about a broad coalition coming together for Ukraine, we can begin to apply a political forgiveness framework. Political forgiveness is an inclusive process bringing all groups affected by a conflict together from the community to the political level.  It needs to have that broad approach whereby it is bringing in as wide a community and coalition as possible to support any action taking place and to enable a range of views to be heard, considered, and then responded to. That is its strength. The process does not marginalize or exclude people, for it to be effective it needs to take in the experiences of everyone in a considered way. This is a template for how we should approach things as we assess these conflicts, and how to make progress in achieving a sustainable solution to them, even if it means taking small steps forward. If we proceed in a way which does not include everyone, we will not achieve a sustainable solution or sustainable progress. 

As people begin to work with one another, especially those who never have had relationships before, and begin to learn about one another, they can begin to see each other differently, dispelling stereotypes and becoming more aware of the implicit or hidden biases. Working together provides an opportunity to build trust and a greater understanding which is key to moving forward whether it be in a political forgiveness process or in a collective, cohesive approach taken by the international community in trying to solve these intractable conflicts. Building trust and understanding provides the foundation for constructive partnerships to develop where both sides can agree on the best interests of all people and develop a bespoke solution and way forward. 

What we have learned from political forgiveness is that unified action, inclusion, and the collective is extremely powerful. Any action taken on the international stage to relieve human suffering or address conflicts should seek to include a broad spectrum of partners where different opinions and ideas can be put forward, debated, and considered. This would support a cohesive approach in moving forward in a way that can sustain peace and help countries progress in a direction to avoid falling back into a cycle of violence or repeating the mistakes of the past. This is the importance of taking collective action and of a political forgiveness process which can have great impact and be effective especially in the healing of nations. Let us use the response to Ukraine as a roadmap for the future. More can be achieved together than separately so to do the most good and the most for humanity let us move forward as a collective.

 

The Courageous Women of Afghanistan

Listening to the news of what is happening in Afghanistan the past couple of weeks has been nothing short of heartbreaking. Heartbreaking for the country. Heartbreaking for women. Heartbreaking for children. I wanted to see Afghanistan move forward, flourish and succeed like many others who have been to the country and worked with some amazing people who call it home. In 2019, I travelled to Kabul as part of a ‘Thunderbird for Good’ project under the auspices of USAID as part of an initiative under ‘Promote’ called Musharikat. The ‘Promote’ project was a partnership between the Afghanistan government and USAID to secure gains made by Afghan women over the past decade while providing a new generation of Afghan women with the leadership skills to make vital contributions to Afghanistan’s development in governance, civil society, and the economy. It was a bold effort with the aim of empowering 75,000 women. The Musharikat project was designed to build a cadre of more than 5,000 activists and 300 civil society organizations from all 34 provinces to advocate more effectively for, and to advance, women’s equality and empowerment in Afghanistan.  

The women of Afghanistan are incredible, I saw this first hand. They are warm, courageous women who deeply shared their plight in Afghanistan. It was a pleasure to speak with them, work with them and get to know them. I vividly remember as they told me of the sacrifices they made to work in areas such as human rights and humanitarian causes. Some had family members murdered right before their eyes because of their work and others feared for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. Afghan women are courageous and resilient and have been so committed to changing their society for the better. When I think of them now, following the events this past month, I become tearful. I remember their infectious enthusiasm and commitment to improving their lives and the lives of their children. Their desire to have their voices heard, both for themselves and for other women. They were so alive and had so much energy in whatever area they were working in, no matter what the cost. We can never completely know the sacrifices or the pain and suffering the Afghan women had to endure because none of us ever have lived under the difficult conditions they had to live through on a daily basis.

Today, women and children are in such a perilous situation. Any woman with a connection with the United States, or other western allies, is destroying any hint of an association and shredding any documents written in English. Many are even burying cell phones. Even contacting American or International organizations for help is a risk most Afghan women are not prepared to take. The situation that Afghan women find themselves in, having worked so hard to achieve progress, is utterly dismaying. The scenes we have all witnessed from Kabul International Airport over recent weeks show the sheer desperation of people to avoid having to live under oppressive and brutal Taliban rule yet again. 

Under Taliban rule, and Sharia Law, women have no rights to education, work, or freedom of movement. Despite Taliban leadership trying to project a new, more tolerant and progressive image to the world, these are just empty words. They have no intention of changing, and any limited rights they will allow women will be a significant reversal of course for all Afghan women and children from the progress they had fought long and hard for. Those women brave enough to have been politically active or who worked as a journalist, human rights activist, military personnel, or defenders of democracy in any way are likely have targets on their backs, very fearful that the Taliban will go after them. When previously in power over two decades ago, the Taliban would frequently patrol neighbourhoods and beat women indiscriminately. It was enforced law that women had to be completely covered, required to wear burqas. They were very limited as to where they could go and usually needed to be escorted by men. Women could not work and girls were prevented from going to school. It is a very real fear that this is now what women are facing in Afghanistan, that this is what they will be going back to.

On August 10th 2021, Ayda Pourasad reported a story for NPR about a doctor who, while working at her clinic in a northern Afghan city, got a very frightening telephone call. It was from a member of the Taliban who had been threatening her for months because she had given a 13-year-old bride a birth control shot. The caller said that they were entering her city soon and were coming to get her.

The medical doctor’s troubles began 8 months earlier when the 13-year-old first came to the clinic. The doctor learned that this girl was married to an older man, as his second wife, and he wanted her to become pregnant. This young girl was begging for help and did not want to become pregnant. The doctor, understanding the medical risks, gave her a contraceptive injection that would last three months. Soon after the doctor was on the receiving end of furious calls from the husband every day. Later, the doctor found out that this man was a leader of a Taliban group active outside her city. The stronger the Taliban grew, the stronger his fury grew. He later told the doctoe that since she belonged to the ethnic Hazara group, which is basically Shii’te and the Taliban Sunni, she was an infidel and therefore against Islam. The implication was that “we know what to do with you”.

On August 8th 2021, the doctor went straight to the airport with only the clothes on her back. She managed to get a flight out, shocked to see that the plane was almost entirely filled with women. She is now in a neighboring country staying with a friend and having only $400 to her name. She is mourning the loss of everything she had to leave behind, including her family and her career which took a decade to build. The angry husband is still calling her relatives demanding to know where the doctor is. The doctor will never be able to return to her home and to what she loves most, helping other women, especially those in trouble. 

Despite Taliban leaders promising not to enforce the harsh restrictions seen two decades ago and saying that they would still allow women to be involved in government and to be able to work in sectors such as education and health care, the women of Afghanistan know that these are likely nothing more than token words. I struggle for words when I think of the women of Afghanistan, I can never describe the feelings they must have as they watch their country being destroyed, knowing the terrible fate they are probably facing as so many of us watch helplessly. The United States, and our allies, must back up their words of support for the women of Afghanistan with actions. This is not a partisan issue. We have all seen the horrible scenes across all media in recent weeks and we must not be found wanting now. We must evacuate those who are at high risk and support all who we can. There needs to be a political will to do so. The world is watching.

The Importance of Leadership in Ending the Cycle of Violence

The Middle East is no stranger to conflict and the flare up in recent weeks was another reminder that just because the conflict does not fill our TV screens every evening, it has far from gone away. Tensions have been mounting recently following difficulty accessing various religious sites, especially during Ramadan, while a number of Palestinian families were facing potential evictions from their homes as a result of some Israeli settlers making claims to their property.

It was against this backdrop that the Hamas terrorist organization proceeded to fire thousands of rockets at Israel who responded with air strikes on Gaza. The back and forth of rockets and missiles during 11 days of conflict resulted in the deaths of more than 256 Palestinians (including 66 children) and 13 Israelis (including 2 children) with many more injured and displaced. The cycle of violence which has taken place from generation to generation continues and nothing has been resolved or accomplished with no real end in sight. How do we deescalate this situation and finally have meaningful dialogue which works towards a solution? What is needed to achieve this?

Leadership. The cycle of violence, the continuous death and destruction must end and for that to happen real leadership is required. Strong and courageous leadership which seeks to actually resolve the conflict and not just calm it for now only to have it flare up months later. There have been some breakthroughs in the past, but these breakthroughs were initiated by the kinds of leaders we are missing today. These were leaders such as Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat. Shimon Peres and even Yasser Arafat were committed to coming together to build peace. Unfortunately, today the current Israeli Prime Minister is driven by his political survival while Hamas has exploited the very people they claim to fight for. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no real control over Palestinians in and is seen as an illegitimate leader by the Palestinian people.

On the global stage there has been a complete lack of real leadership and an inability to bring both sides of the conflict together to discuss all the issues and to offer a viable long-term solution. This should not be seen as something that can be a short term fix and a ‘political win’ that only lasts six months followed by more violence and more missiles being fired. There needs to be a real concerted international effort to bring about an enduring peace to the region.

What is needed from the leaders of today is a genuine political will, and a change of mindset. Most people are in support of a two-state solution as the way forward, it is the only viable solution. There needs to be a change in mindset as to how this will be approached, how it is achieved and what that process looks like.

What would this leadership look like? In an article How Biden Can Be a Leader in an Israeli-Palestinian Conflict That Has None written by Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller for Politico steps are outlined which can begin a process to end violence between the Palestinians and Israelis. The argument is made that there is a role for American diplomacy that could make meaningful changes on the ground in the Middle East. It does not involve a major initiative to resolve issues such as Jerusalem, borders or refugees, but it does increase the odds of stopping the current and future violence. They outline practical steps which can be seen as a beginning of a political forgiveness process – to stop violence and engage leaders in dialogue including:

  • Nominating a U.S. ambassador to Israel and appointing a senior representative to work the issue full time and to coordinate with the International Quartet (representatives from the U.N., EU and Russia, and the Arab Quartet (Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates).
  • Start an honest dialogue with Israel on the steps Israel must take even as the current Gaza escalation winds down including stopping the demolition of houses and stop expanding settlements in Jerusalem to preserve the idea of two capitals for two future states.
  • Reopen a consulate general in Jerusalem and appoint a consul general to intensify direct dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.
  • Pressure the Palestinian Authority to stop its authoritarian practices and human rights violations. Urge them to hold elections recently canceled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and to stop incentivizing and inciting violence.

There are important steps which need to be taken to set the stage for the necessary dialogues to begin. These steps begin with the importance of building trust. Leaders need to be able to step back and acknowledge their roles and their responsibility in the continuation of the conflict. They need to admit that there has been a wrong committed, that the current situation is not tenable causing more hurt on each side as the situation continues. Leaders need to talk to one another honestly and openly. They need to gain a better understanding of one another, listen to each other and together develop a framework to help resolve this conflict. There also needs to be an acknowledgment from both sides that things need to change to move to an agreed solution.  Leaders who are strong and courageous enough to do this are the real leaders.

We need visionary leadership that recognizes if occupation continues and voices of violent extremist are not marginalized, the violence will not stop. What has happened in the past must be dealt with head-on as a means of focusing all parties on the process and to put violence behind them. Leaders must honor the agreement of stopping violence at all costs and commit themselves to finding new ways of relating to one another. The reason there has never been success with this conflict is that both sides have shirked responsibility, have not admitted to the failings of the past processes, and did not approach this in good faith with an open mind. Instead, they have been approaching the conflict from their own points of interest and from a very narrow perspective, not appreciating that there is another side to this conflict and that a solution needs to work for both sides.

The human element of this conflict must also be addressed including the emotional undertow underlying the political situation which fuels the cycles of revenge. Leaders need to provide a mechanism to work through these emotions in a more productive way as it relates to the historical content of the situation. This requires leaders to respond to situations in a compassionate inclusive way that unites people instead of divides people. This needs to become a political mindset, a guidepost from which leaders act.

The human element is what will bring either success or failure to this process. You can put forth the best peace agreement which is all inclusive but this does not necessarily mean there will be any progress unless there is a change in mentality which transforms thinking so that compassion, inclusiveness, and respect outweigh the need for political gain, revenge, and divisiveness. There needs to be a change in an approach from all sides who are party to this conflict to start de-escalating the conflict and start moving towards a peaceful solution.

This will require international leadership, led by the US, Egypt and the International Quartert, and a transparent and accountable process. Leaders have the capacity to make choices based on greater wisdom and values which can help people rise to their best potential and to achieve shared ideals for a better existence. This is what we can strive for and what it will take if we want to end this conflict and finally break the cycles of violence. This is the work of political forgiveness.

 

 

The Beginning of a New Way Forward

As Charles Dickens once wrote in his novel A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worse of times.” Could this be true for us? We are coping with a pandemic and dealing with deep divisions and issues of racial injustice which are profound. Parallels have been drawn between what is happening now and during the Civil War. So where are “the best of times?”

Crisis brings opportunities. Out of our pain can come healing. We know healing begins with truth telling and accountability and fortunately we have models from around the world which we can learn from. The most notable comes from the work of Nelson Mandel and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although this commission had many flaws it is also a model which can teach us many things. Other models are emerging such as the work being done in Colombia with their truth commission. One of the most interesting aspects of this work is how it views different forms of the truth and works with the differing perceptions. Closer to home is the work done in Canada and their truth and reconciliation commission which provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

A new way forward is about transformation. It takes time and a critical mass to get there. Unfortunately, our culture has de-valued many of its citizens and so our work begins with remembering our humanity, our inner-connectedness and what it means to be a human being. It means zero tolerance for any kind of violence. In this country what we must grapple with is the ideology of racism and violence and the denial of humanity for different groups of people. The work must be comprehensive and work on all levels of society. People need to change mind sets, communities must come together and heal, and there needs to be resources and commitment on the governmental level to change structures in society so what we are now experiencing can never happen again.

Can the worse of times become the best of times? Can we embrace this moment of crisis in a healing capacity as a country so we can go forward with a new vision of who we must be as a nation and have the capacity to demonstrate empathy and care for one another, showing that we value one another? Can we transform our structures to be inclusive instead of exclusive? What I have just described is the work of political forgiveness. In practicing forgiveness politically, we can grow in compassion and empathy and out of that can develop a new culture based on our humanness. This IS our way forward and gives us an opportunity to make profound changes in our society.

For those interested in learning more about political forgiveness please go to my website www.drborris.com. Feel free to sign up for the monthly newsletter which shares information and stories on political forgiveness when you go to the website.

Political Forgiveness 101

There is so much good work happening n the field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution which goes unnoticed and which is very inspiring. Especially heart warming are the women peace makers who bring to the mix compassion, understanding and nurturance. With all the division and “us versus them” mentality to heal these divisions and transform conflict we need to change our mindsets. This is where political forgiveness can come into play.

Political forgiveness not only include individual forgiveness but broadens the concept of forgiveness to the political arena. In a sense it can be seen as a secular version of what can be viewed as more religious or spiritual on an individual level and is about healing not only individually but also on a community and national level as well.

The question becomes “are we ready for this?” Are we at a place where we are willing to let go of our need to be right for the sake of others and to be willing to really listen and hear one another especially behind the what is being said? There is so much fear that we are feeling. Fear of not having a place in society or fear of losing our place, or that we feel we do not matter. There is fear of losing control or not having control and the list goes on.

When we allow ourselves to engage in a political forgiveness process, we begin with the understanding that we want to come together and finally listen to one another. We are willing to acknowledge our part in what ever situation which has been causing conflict, take responsibility for it and work together in a healing capacity. There ae many steps to a political forgiveness process and in order to engage it begins with changing mindsets – a difficult process for some and a process which can be quite profound for others.

In transforming conflict, a political forgiveness process is necessary. Forgiveness on any level requires an inner shift within our beings. In an address to a joint session of the United States Congress in 1990 former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel said that “without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, a more humane society will not emerge.” Stopping the cycles of anger, hatred, and fear which fuel so much suffering, requires a radical change in our thinking. Without this change we will stay stuck in the quagmire of violence and aggression, passing down to each generation the legacy of violence and guilt which will only perpetuate these cycles. If, on the other hand, we are honestly committed to transforming consciousness, then we will recognize that the true heroes are those individuals who are not afraid to look within, to change the way they think, and heal the pain of their heart. This kind of healing transformation is what forgiveness is about.

Healing ourselves, our communities and our nations is not east work, but it is necessary if we want to live more peacefully with one another. The gift is that when we have the courage to do things differently and make changes within ourselves our lives become richer, fuller and more meaningful. When we can listen to one another and help alleviate someone else’s fear by our compassion and understanding we are creating more peaceful societies and a more peaceful world.

 

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What Kind of Americans Do We Want to Be?

All of us are facing difficult situations and crises which involves free choice, wise thinking and important decision making, based on our values and the kind of America we can be proud of and feel good about. Yet our country more than ever is extremely polarized. Decisions that seem to be made feel as though we are more obsessed with material wealth than we care about one another. We seem to be caught up in hate speech which continues to polarize this nation and we appear to live blindly, not thinking about the effects of our actions on others. Are we going to live so caught up in ourselves that we do not make room for self-reflection?

We are becoming a new country. Will this country be based on materialistic wealth and the power of privilege or will it be based on our understanding of our interconnectiveness? Our greatest times as a country is when we showed concern for others such as after the second world war when we cared about the well-being of others. We created the Marshal plan to aid the recovery of West Germany and Japan. We experienced wealth and abundance during that time. We welcomed immigrants which led to a stronger economy and stronger cultural diversity. These were positive actions taken upholding certain values which included generosity, compassion and inclusiveness. We were the way shower for the rest of the world – a beacon of light for humanity.

There has been a shift in recent years which has led us to where we are today. We have become more aggressive, polarized and have unfair economic policies creating a wider gap between the have’s and have nots. Covid 19 is showing us in no uncertain terms the inequities in our society. We have seen how this pandemic has accentuated the sharp divisions between those who care for others first and those who think it is ok to lose Americans in the name of economic well-being. What may not be so clear is that if we keep losing Americans there will be no economic well-being.

We have choices to make. Who do we really want to be and what are we willing to do to get there? We are at a crossroads. It is up to us as to what direction we want to take and how we chose to relate to the rest of the world. What this pandemic is doing is making us stop, stop the feverish pace we are so used to, stop to hear the suffering of others, stop to recognize that if we want to be healthy, we have an obligation to each other. We are being forced to stop, hopefully to sit in silence and to listen and to really understand what is most important in this world.

Can We Truly Become Great Again?

I read an article the other day on “The coronavirus is an opportunity for people with privilege, and American society as a whole, to broaden their empathy for others.” The article spoke of the threat of death from an unseen virus which affects all of us regardless of class or race, and of the deep interconnectedness which unites us by globally crossing all color, economic and national lines. There are many lessons we are learning because of the circumstances we are finding ourselves in. If we do not take the necessary precautions and find a way to eliminate the virus we could die. We are also seeing that if we stop abusing our planet our water and skies become blue again as earth’s ecology becomes healthier.

 

But what about other aspects of our world we live in, the social aspects where we are seeing such injustice and inequality especially to those less fortunate, those more vulnerable, to people of color. This pandemic is shining a light on the unfairness that exists within our society. We see it in the numbers in which the pandemic disproportionately is affecting African Americans. We see it in society’s lack of concern on the toll of the elderly especially in nursing homes. What kind of collusion course are we on if we do not look at the divisions and if we do not correct the increasingly polarized, increasingly violent course we are on? How much longer can we go on ignoring how we are exploiting people within our own society, and how racism is running rampant because of the inherent superiority that feeds into racism, and the “right” to ignore laws at the expense of others. What kind of world are we creating within our own county whose foundation and glory was based in caring for others? This pandemic is showing us how far off from this ideal we have become.

 

The pandemic starkly reminds us that we are all in this together, that  we need not  just a medical vaccine but a vaccine against a larger and more insidious pandemic of racism and global injustice where 1% own and exploit more assets than everyone else combined. What is desperately needed is deep soul searching and a recognition of the complicity we all play in perpetuating an unjust society. Understanding and healing can come if we can develop within ourselves compassion and empathy. It is deep empathy that will ultimately lead us to making different choices and to the necessary breakthroughs that can serve humanity in a healing capacity. It is the lack of empathy that will keep us in the darkness that we find ourselves in today. Can we rise to the occasion and through acts of kindness and concern for one another truly become great again? This is our challenge, and this is also where our healing lies. What do you think?

 

What does it mean for Forgiveness to be Political?

With all the bitterness and divisiveness which has taken hold in our political world today what we urgently need to heal these divides is “the politics of forgiveness.” But you may ask: What does forgiveness in politics mean, and are politics and forgiveness related? And why is forgiveness so crucial?

I have been thinking long and hard as to what it means for forgiveness to be political. Our political world which is the public realm of our existence is fraught with conflicts, violence and all the “isms” one can imagine. How can we stop this violence and the many attacks on one another and live in a more peaceful society? When we think about forgiveness, we recognize that it is about how we choose to express ourselves and the kind of actions we will take against a perceived wrong, our choice being to choose to respond to this world with understanding, tolerance and compassion. It is tapping into the essence of who we are, what we think and what we believe in. It reveals something about us and what we hold to be true. Forgiveness becomes political when we apply this kind of thinking to our actions in the public realm. Forgiveness becomes political insofar as it is an individual political action that expresses itself first in revealing something of oneself and in the narratives that emerges and finally in how it becomes the basis in establishing new relationships.

Forgiveness is not just a personal or individual act that is limited to the private sphere. Increasingly today there is the realization that forgiveness is also necessary in the public sphere, thus also in the political realm. The politics of forgiveness is urgently needed in the United States, where the polarization is so great that it has virtually become two nations as the rhetoric surrounding our politics illustrates. The only way that equally polarized Republicans and Democrats can live together and stop their partisan sniping is through the politics of forgiveness. That may not happen any time soon but is a willingness to forgive others too much to expect from politicians, many of whom call themselves Christians?

The politics of forgiveness does work, even if it does so imperfectly. We have seen forgiveness in politics carried out in many countries especially where truth and reconciliation commissions have been established. Imperfect as these processes may have been it does not negate the healing power the politics of forgiveness can bring.

Forgiveness is a long process that requires daily reinforcement whether practiced in the personal or political realm. Political forgiveness is even messier because of the many people involved, but it is imperative that this form of politics takes root in every country of the world and especially now in the United States. Conflicts will never cease, but how people handle them is crucial. Forgiveness in politics is imperative if we want to stop doing business as usual, creating more conflict and violence and want to chose to live in a more peaceful world.

What does it mean for forgiveness to be political? I am interested in hearing about what you think. Please share your thoughts on what it means for forgiveness to be political. It is worth a conversation.

Peace, Justice and Forgiveness

If I were to ask you what do we mean by peace, most people would speak of it as the absence of war. Peace is more than that. It is a state of mind, a way of being that can only happen when we are centered within ourselves. It happens when we are in touch with the essence of who we are, our spiritual essence. When people have a committed spiritual practice such as meditation and/or prayer, we see a calmness about them, a peacefulness of sorts. And when people come from a place of inner peace, that exudes outwardly in this world.

We can also ask ourselves what do we mean by justice. I am not talking about criminal justice we hear about in the courts but a higher justice. It is the kind of justice that recognizes all people are accorded basic human rights and transcends divisions of class, race, nationality and the many “isms” that can separate us. The virtue of justice requires not only that we judge others fairly but also that we judge ourselves fairly. Our sense of justice is formed by our beliefs. Just people are wise in the ways of fairness, equality and mercy. People who believe in justice question themselves, are aware of their own mistakes and so they are forgiving of others.

Working for justice is a spiritual practice. It increases our awareness of the interrelatedness of all people and the interdependence of life. Only a quest for justice can awaken our spiritual perception. A commitment to justice may foster a renewed perception of this spiritual reality – as we feel the suffering of others who we regard as strangers with our own selves. It is this kind of empathy which helps us be able to forgive.

This brings me to the work of forgiveness. Social transformation is brought about when individuals and groups are willing to be changed, even as they strive to change the world. Forgiveness, our inner healer is about change. To forgive on a transformational level we have to look within ourselves and shine a light on our darkness to be healed at a deep level. When we truly can forgive, we are given the gift of the experience of inexplicable love which changes us so as though there has been an interior renovation which has taken place and has no need for outer instruction. We have experienced the power of unconditional love and of the knowing or our spiritual connectiveness. The way we cultivate peace in our own hearts that is so powerful that we can weather any storm is through our connection with our spiritual self. The path that gets us there is through forgiveness. This is how forgiveness changes us and transforms us. The way this happens is as we shine a light on ourselves, we also recognize the light in others. It is through this lens that we view justice and know peace. This is where our greatest transformation lies.

“I have understood that I can’t stay with this pain: I want to learn to Forgive.”

War devastates. War kills. War tears apart the fabric of society often shredding it to pieces. Rebuilding a society is a complex and painstaking process not to be taken lightly. Often it is the most vulnerable people in our society, the women, children and elderly who suffer most. And often it is the women who come together in the search for peace to talk about forgiveness.

In the very complex political landscape that has emerged following over fifty years of conflict, Colombia has taken steps towards what can be considered the building blocks of a political forgiveness process. Work is being done on an individual and community level through a number of programs some of which include the Foundation for Reconciliation and on a national level as well through the “Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition” which is tasked with constructing a historical truth from the stories of millions of victims. This has reinvigorated hope among victims for healing their long-held traumas.

The Colombian “Commission for the Clarification of the Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition” is partnering with an organization, PeaceWomen Across the Globe and its Peace Table program.  The Peace Table program creates spaces in which women can talk to one another and provides opportunities for voices to be heard and ensures that women become part of the peace process and that their experiences are not being forgotten. Their stories are powerful and as women shared their experiences of pain and suffering, they also speak of what they did to survive. In Columbia part of Peace Table experience is walking through a dense forest helping women re-experiencing nature and re-awakening memories. The group stopped at a tree where they saw a yellow note attached to it. It said, “I have understood that I can’t stay with this pain; I want to learn to forgive.” The women recognized the importance of this message and the kind of healing only forgiveness can bring.

At the end of the Peace table each woman received a pot of earth, seeds and a paper flower with motivational sayings which is what the picture above shows us. (@ PeaceWomen Across the Globe.)They also learned that they could talk about their pain and suffering, that forgiveness was about their inner healing, and that they could forgive which did not mean they would forget and at the same time have inner peace.