Reconciliation

I need a better word than reconciliation.

It’s become a loaded term, a political term, an undesirable term. To many, it means appeasement to an oppressor or abuser. It means to relinquish any demands for justice for atrocities committed. It’s not a word most people want to think about during the heat of conflict or in the immediate aftermath of such.

What reconciliation is supposed to mean is peacefully co-existing with those with whom you have been in conflict, and laying those conflicts aside. It is an acceptance of the past, without agreeing with it, and a mutual understanding that, in the future, there will be reciprocated respect and cooperation.

Even when one group militarily defeats another, many of us expect reconciliation, as happened with the Allies and Axis countries after World War II (a war many believe was caused because of the lack of reconciliation and, rather, the focus on punishment, after World War I). Isn’t reconciliation the 21st Century goal for every conflict now, whether in the Middle East or Ferguson, Missouri? Yet, to say the word in regard to the eventual resolution of conflict – and all conflict must resolve at some point, even if only because one runs out of ammunition and funding – can produce immediate resistance, an utter dismissal of the idea. You don’t get a too soon! response, you get a NEVER response.

But what is the alternative to resolutionI don’t think there is one. At least not one we can live with.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) is a non-governmental organization and think tank in South Africa. It was forged out of the country’s now legendary Truth and Reconciliation process in 2000. It’s allowed South Africa to move forward in a way I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. South Africa has so, so far to go, so many massive challenges, many of which make my stomach churn. Yet… what would have been the alternative to attempting even this incomplete reconciliation?

Reconciliation is an ongoing process. For many countries – for many individual people, for just their own daily relationships – it’s a never-ending process. It’s a constant struggle. Rarely do you hear of a person that has completely reconciled with an abuser or oppressor, with someone that has done a grave injustice to that person. Rarely do you hear of two formerly-warring factions, or two populations – one the oppressor, one the oppressed – that have achieved complete reconciliation. You hear that they are still struggling, still debating, still trying to respect and understand, still bristling at the lack of respect and understanding. But even just that ongoing process, that struggle – isn’t that what we should strive to reach after every conflict, whether its a civil war, a war between two countries, or a divorce following a horrific marriage?

I need a better word than reconciliation.

Further reading:

From Resolution to Reconciliation in Postconflict Societies, by Daniel Bar-Tal, in World Politics Review (you get the full article for free if you’ve never visited the site before, so be sure to download it and read it offline, because after a few days, it goes away and asks for a subscription – and if I could afford to subscribe, I would).

Reconciliation After Violent Conflict: A Handbook, from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2003, available from the United Nations web site.

One thought on “Reconciliation

  1. cheshmak

    ‘transformation’ as in conflict transformation because ultimately going from conflict to peace requires the transformation of conditions that brought about the conflict in the first place, and more importantly, transformation of the heart.

    Reply

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