Reconciliation: Learning to Love Your Enemy
Hyde Park Corner is a place in London where barkers, evangelists and political devotee’s of all stripes stake a claim to a space and preach, teach or proselytize while the crowds heckle, argue, or cheer them on. When I was 16 and heading into my last year of high school my parents sent me off to Europe to see the world. Hyde Park Corner was where Mr. Rosengrave, my chaperon, an Aussie with little tolerance for wayward children almost sent me home. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that I was in my element. Being a devout Catholic and an even more devout patriot, I found myself defending my faith and my country in an argument with a Black South African who was expounding upon the racism in the USA. With all the certainty that a 16 year old can muster I was arguing for the American values of equality under the law. He, of course, was arguing for 600 years of oppression under slavery and beyond. At 1:00 am my able opponent, myself and a bobbie ( cop) were the only ones left in the park. There was no reconciliation here. The argument ended abruptly when my chaperon came flying out of the hotel vociferously ranting that I was not to talk with man woman or child as long as we were in Europe. This was 1957; apartheid in South Africa did not end until April 27, 1994 when I first learned of reconciliation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, set up by the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995. The hearings began in 1996. The Commission was to create three remedies to the injustices of apartheid and to successfully deal with human rights violations after political change.
The Commission heard testimony concerning human rights violations on all sides; worked for reparation and rehabilitation of victims, and in some cases to granted amnesty for those perpetrators who applied. This method of restorative justice was seen as an alternative to the retributive justice applied in the Nuremberg trials.
According to the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries there are two parts to the definition of reconciliation. The first is the revival of a friendship that has been broken after the parties have argued seriously and kept apart from each other. The second is “making one view or belief compatible with another.
Our country, while claiming to be a Christian country, seems to have retribution as one of its core values. We see this in the different responses of the family members of victims of violence. Often the family seeks retributive justice, only believing “justice has been served when the maximum penalty has been. In other cases, those family members express sorrow for the losses the family of the perpetrator are suffering and seeking healing and rehabilitation, ie restorative justice. Films of all types, westerns, war stories, and even stories of family violence end with the killer getting what he deserved.
Retribution requires that we see the perpetrator as ‘other’ not one of us. It is so pervasive that stories like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Green Mile, and Cool Hand Luke are notable simply because they expose the lie that underlies the belief that retribution is justified. Indeed the Hebrew Bible is full of stories of a vengeful God who takes a personal interest in the relationships of his chosen people, while Jesus teaches us to love, to forgive, to make amends. Christians on both sides of the political divide have come to see the ‘other’ as the enemy, not as neighbor, not as one deserving of love and compassion.
How do we get from that place of seeking revenge to seeking healing and restorative justice?
“ Remember that everyone you meet along the way in your journey are dealing with their own hopes and fears. Everyone you meet loves something, has lost something or fears something.”1. Victor Narro
Following a panel on gun violence, I found myself arguing with the mother of one of the young men on the panel. We began by reciting our positions and trying to convince each other of our correctness. We each had beliefs and opinions about the group that the other represented. We were not hearing each other. In order for me to reconcile with my neighbor who thinks that carrying a semi-automatic rifle her God-given right under the Constitution. In order to cut through the impasse, I had to be curious about her loves, her hopes and most particularly, her fears. In other words, I had to see her not as an enemy, threatening to block any efforts for gun control but as another human in the family of God. At the end of her rant about why we all needed guns, I was moved to ask, “What happened to you?” She told me; and I could feel her fear. More importantly, I could feel compassion for her fear and knew that had I been through what she’d been through, I might feel the same way. In the end, Nila and I became friends, planned to go out for coffee, even found some areas of agreement. She agrees that all people need health care, medicare, and social security. She believes in a woman’s right to make her own life choices. That is a beginning.
So, I invite you to look at your hopes and fears, Who or what have you loved and lost, or fear losing? These are our potential triggers that block our opening to others. I invite you to picture a friend, or someone with whom you might disagree. Imagine yourself being curious about what in their life has caused them to hold so tightly to their beliefs. Imagine yourself listening for an opening, for a place to learn more about them. You’ll know what to say in the moment. Spirit will guide you if you are open to hearing. And just maybe you too will make a new friend. And that is the point from which you just might be able to let him or her know why you believe so strongly that love is the way.
Narro, V. Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with your Work for Justice. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, South Carolina. 2014