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Closing the Divide

The continuing deep divisions within US society have been on the forefront of my mind recently. As I listen to, and observe, what is happening across this nation, I want to delve deeper. What is sustaining these entrenched divisions and how we can move forward? How do we heal as a nation?

The divisions in our society today have eroded our trust in one another and in our civic institutions. When we divide ourselves into different groups, we begin to see our world through different and polarized lenses. The way we view the world impacts the way we think about our world, and each other. If we always view things through a polarized lens then that is all the world will ever be to us. One side pitted against the other in a toxic political environment. And so, we end up where we are now, with a deeply divided nation. So how do we overcome this?

In order to heal, we need to understand the psychological factors which drive us apart. It begins with the creation of ‘in’ groups, groups which share common beliefs and values. Unfortunately, when a conflict takes hold these common values and beliefs become more entrenched leading to tunnel vision. In a report published by Beyond Conflict, “America’s Divided Mind: Understanding the Psychology that Drives Us Apart,” there is discussion of a core feature of polarized psychology, that it distorts the way our brains processes information about society.

When such political polarization occurs, as we have seen over the last number of years in US society, it can deeply divide our society. We see the opposite side as somewhat alien to us. We hold incredibly negative views and beliefs about the ‘other’ which colors our whole perception of them. This sets into motion other destructive beliefs such as the belief that the ‘other’ cannot be reasoned with and that all on that ‘side’ are the same. There is no room for nuance in this polarized world. Before we realize it, our dislike of the ‘other’ deepens to the point of dehumanization. We no longer see the ‘other’ as an equal. When we become so entrenched in our thinking the result is a toxic environment for all. 

Dehumanization is dangerous. It happens when we perceive others as less than us, less than human. Dehumanization is what fuels conflict, atrocities and genocides. What happened in Nazi Germany leading to WWII was the result of dehumanization, Jewish people were viewed as lesser, persecuted and murdered. In Rwanda, dehumanization led to a genocide which shocked the world with common descriptions of the persecuted people being ‘vermin’ or ‘cockroaches’.

This is where deeply divided nations can end up. I am not saying that this is where the United States will end up, but if we head too far in opposite directions, it becomes harder and harder to come back together. How do we halt this process and attempt to heal this divide? Can we even do that? The answer is a resounding yes! To reverse course and not further advance the dehumanization process, we need to begin to see each other for what we are, flawed and human. We need to stop the bluster and rhetoric which is demeaning to people. We need to think before we speak and consider the impact of our words on others. If we do this, we will realize that while we hold differing views, we are not dehumanized by the other group to the extent that we had believed. This realization can help us break the cycle of polarization.

How can we stop dehumanization and polarization? There are psychological processes that are involved which, interestingly, form part of the process of political forgiveness. It can simply start with people on both sides coming together, apprehensive and all, and speaking to one and other, person to person. The value of discussion cannot be overstated. One person in discussion with another about life, about family or even about their favorite sports team is the most human of activities. Finding that common ground and what unites us rather than what divides us is how we move forward. 

While we may hold different beliefs and political views, we all have things which we can relate to one another on. By discussing and sharing our experiences, we learn about one another. When sitting in a room speaking with our perceived ‘adversaries’, those whom we have labelled as the ‘other’, we begin to recognize that although the content or perspective may be different the themes in the discussions and stories are similar. We realize that we have more in common than that which divides us. This shared human experience helps us open our minds, and our hearts, to one another allowing us a greater understanding of one another. We cannot dehumanize someone if we feel empathy towards them.

Sometimes these stories describe painful realities and truths that may be uncomfortable to hear, yet these stories can sow the seeds of transformation and help create a shared vision for the future based on a shared understanding of the past. To hear these stories, these narratives of the ‘other’, does not mean that you endorse them but it does mean that you hear and understand them. Sometimes the willingness to listen, and a focus on commonalities rather than differences, can help close the divide and establish a less polarized environment.

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.

The Poisoning of America’s Soul

Today is MLK day, to honor not only a man who was a great civil rights leader, but also a very spiritual man who had a great soul. His speeches and writings demonstrated a depth of thinking reflecting his beautiful heart for humanity. He understood the destructiveness of violence which not only destroys the social progress in America but also destroys the nations soul as well.

Reverend King often warned about the importance of caring for the worlds oppressed rather than taking sides with the oppressor and so I want to leave you with the words of King himself who speaks of the importance of re-directing ourselves to creating a better world no matter what it demands of us along the way.

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. We still have a choice today, nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world a world that borders on our doors.

“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”

For those of you who are interested in learning about forgiveness on a political level please go to my website www.drborris.com. You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter whose focus is on political forgiveness.

 

Stop the Insanity!

It was truly heartbreaking to see destruction taking place on the U.S. Capitol during what was supposed to be a procedural event to confirm president-elect Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Instead, what was demonstrated was anger and hatred incited by the president himself. Is this the America we want or are we willing to stop this insanity and begin a healing process that is so desperately needed in this country? We are seeing very clearly the healing which needs to take place within the United States. If we chose to shine a light on the darkness within society and take responsibility for our actions perhaps something good can come from this.

 To heal the political divisions in this country we need to be honest. We need to know the truth and dismantle the conspiracy theories. Why is this so important? In Timothy Snyder’s book, On Tyranny Snyder spells out important lessons we need to learn and how to preserve a fragile democracy. He describes a trajectory of how authoritarian regimes begins to form such as in creating an alternative reality, dismantling the truth, and introducing doubt in a democratic system. Therefore, truth telling becomes extremely important in the healing process of any nation and especially when people continually lie for political gain, they need to be held accountable. We need to recognize that none of this happens without a concerted effort to support an alternate reality from the very beginning. And finally, how this story is recalled in the future is going to matter a great deal for our country. We need to remember who were on the side of this alternate reality, who perpetuated lies and who encouraged the insurrection by domestic terrorist. The way out of this situation is to tell the truth, and for people to be held accountable. Truth and accountability are necessary in the long-term process of healing this nation and go hand in hand.

I often speak of forgiveness on a political level and I am sure that when people hear these words, they automatically think that to forgive means to let people off the hook including our political leaders. That is not what political forgiveness is about. On the contrary, a political forgiveness process must begin with truth telling and accountability. This is the critical first step. Without this healing is impossible.

For all of you who would like to recieve my newsletter to learn more about political forgiveness please go to my website www.drborris.com.  If you have any personal or political forgivness stories you would like to share or have thoughts or questions you may have concerning forgiveness on a personal or political level please use the contact form below. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Another Brexit Surprise? Salvaging Peace in Colombia after 52 Years of Conflict

erborris_colombia-voteThe vote to reject the peace agreement with the FARC and the Colombian government has been compared to the fallout from the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum.  The rejection was totally unexpected and the failure to ratify the peace agreement has left Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the government of Colombia and the leadership of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known as the FARC) uncertain as to the future of the peace deal which has taken four years of negotiations.

By Dr. Eileen Borris    –  @ERBorris  –    http://DrBorris.com

(Scottsdale, AZ – October 4, 2016) Colombians vote NO!  The vote was rejected by the slimmest of margins 50.2% No versus 49.8% to approve the peace agreement.  This shocking development has people wondering what will happen next sending the rebels and the Colombian government back to the drawing board.  President Juan Manuel Santos is sending Humberto de la Calle, Colombia’s Chief Negotiator, back to Havana to continue negotiations with the leadership of the FARC including Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño, the Leader of the FARC.

“The desire for peace is universal and unanimous,” said de la Calle.  “I will continue pursuing the objective of peace in what remains of my life.”

It has been estimated that 250,000 were killed in the 52-year conflict which displaced as many as 8 million people.   Despite reaching the peace agreement, the issue that was the most contentious was the issue of justice.  In the weeks leading up to Sunday’s vote, many Colombians were angered by what they saw as insufficient punishment for those who committed a variety of crimes against their people. Out of more than 13 million votes cast, a margin of less than 54,000 votes decided the defeat of the peace initiative.

How did the majority of Colombia view justice?  Those who voted “no” are holding on to a very narrow view of justice, thinking of justice in a very punitive way. They felt the FARC deserved a lot more jail time and not the minimal jail time proposed in the peace agreement.

re·stor·a·tive jus·tice


noun
a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

Despite historic peace deal, over half of Colombia was not ready for an alternative form of justice – restorative justice that focuses on the victims by proposing punishments such as community service and restitution, rather than simply putting perpetrators in prison. At the same time, it attempts to bring armed combatants back into society. That may help avoid what has happened in the past – in both Colombia and elsewhere – when former combatants were unable to find new job skills or build homes and returned to organized violence.

Forgiveness sometimes comes at a high price.  For many Colombians, the FARC’s past crimes are too much to forgive. President Santos, who focused so much of his energy in ending the war, is unpopular at home which possibly hurt the acceptance of the peace accords. Former President Alvaro Uribe, who led the “no” campaign, was very opposed to the peace accord especially given that his father was killed by members of the FARC. He garnered many supporters to his side. Others have challenged the legality of the peace agreements especially where it concerned the guaranteed seats in the Colombian Congress for the FARC.

Why should the US care about what happened in Colombia?  Anger is being expressed on the streets of Colombia.  The cease-fire with the FARC is delicate at best.  Peace negotiations have been going on for decades.  Does this sound familiar?  In Colombia, there is so much anger that has not been addressed in an effort to heal this nation, employ multi-track diplomacy, and move forward with peace initiatives. There is a lesson here in the United States. If we don’t start addressing the anger felt by so many Americans, peace will be elusive in this country.

There is a lesson to be learned about the meaning of justice as well. Just like the Colombians, people in the US are crying out for justice, but what kind of justice are they really calling for? Are we just calling out for punishment, looking through a narrow lens of what justice stands for or is there something we can learn about restorative justice? Holding onto an inflexible understanding of justice does not lead to a transformation of the conflict. The way people think needs to become more flexible so that the voices of everyone can be heard and adapted to what is feasible and realistic in the process of resolving the conflict.

Clearly there is a rocky road ahead. In a society where violence has been embedded in its DNA for the last 50 years, and where violence is expected, this monumental shift in what has just happened has caught the attention of all those involved, taking Colombians down a new path in their history. The unpredictability of the situation could still lead to the opening of the doors of hope where forgiveness can take the place of anger with a forward motion towards a peace and reconciliation process in the next phase of Colombian history.  Colombia cannot stay in limbo for very long.

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ABOUT Dr. Eileen Borris

IMG_5070_ppe1INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED AS THE WORLD’S LEADING EXPERT ON THE HEALING OF NATIONS, POLITICAL FORGIVENESS, AND MULTI-TRACK DIPLOMACY.

For over three decades, Dr. Eileen Borris has stood on the front lines of forgiveness from the personal to the political. A renowned psychologist and consultant, Dr. Borris rebuilds countries by ending the cycles of abuse and revenge from centuries past. She leads the charge by training high profile individuals and groups including diplomats, peacekeepers, and humanitarian organizations.  Dr. Borris has been invited to create and instruct peace-building programs in more than fifteen of the most unstable and war-torn countries. She has taught at the most prestigious universities in the world, including Thunderbird School of Global Management, where she works today, delivered multiple addresses to the United Nations, and has written two highly acclaimed books on the topic of forgiveness. A native New Yorker, Eileen Borris received both her Masters degree (1972) and her doctorate in psychology (1985) from Columbia University. @ERBorris DrBorris@DrBorris.com
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