Report on Conference Call with Marina Cantacuzino, June 2, 2015
- Welcome (Marilyn Turkovich)
- Technical Information (Mary Ella Keblusek)
- Speaker Introduction (Reed Price)
- Presentation (Marina Cantacuzino)
- Breakout Groups (All)
- Questions & Answers (All)
- Closing (Marina and Marilyn)
Marilyn Turkovich: Hello, I’m Marilyn Turkovich, from the Charter for Compassion International (CCI). We are so grateful and excited that you’ve joined us for today’s call with Marina Cantacuzino, the founder of The Forgiveness Project. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Marina in London a year ago. CCI’s mission is to bring together people from every sector (we have 9 of them), to instill compassion in everything we do, and to care for each other and for the well-being of all members of the community.
To that end we sponsor these Global Conference Calls about three times a month, at no charge. Our Maestro Conference call technical facilitator today is Mary Ella Keblusek.
Mary Ella Keblusek: Today, we are using a wonderful conference call platform called “Maestro.” We will be using the Social Webinar feature to view slides that Marina has prepared. In your invitation to dial-in to today’s call you’ll see a blue button that reads “ACCESS SOCIAL WEBINAR.” Just click on this button to be able to see the slides.
Also, we’ll be using our phone or Skype keypads to communicate during call. Note: if you called in using Skype, you use the Skype touchpad built into Skype, not the computer keyboard.
In all cases, press ‘1’ on your phone or Skype keypad for a question and press ‘5’ on your phone or Skype keypad for a technical problem. Also, we will use our keypads to select our Breakout Groups later on in the call.
At this point we want to find out who is willing to share their emails with others on this call. We do not share your email publicly. We will only share it in a pdf sent to others who are participating in this call. Press ‘3’ now on your keypad if you are okay with sharing your email. Thank you.
Now I am going to turn the microphone over to Reed Price, who will introduce today’s presenter.
Reed Price: Hello everyone. Our speaker today is Marina Cantacuzino, founder of The Forgiveness Project. As an award-winning journalist, Marina found that her subjects’ authentic voices were a powerful way to communicate their stories of struggle and triumph. So inspired, she launched “The F Word: Images of Forgiveness” in 2004—an exhibit that features personal stories of atrocity and terror and subsequent heart-opening portrayals of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Marina was quoted by the Reuters news agency in 2006 as saying, “Forgiveness is such a complex and difficult issue. Forgiveness can be the highest ideal or a soft option and it can be a dirty word for many.”
Out of the exhibit “The F Word: Images of Forgiveness” came the founding of The Forgiveness Project, a United Kingdom-based not-for-profit. The Forgiveness Project, a partner with the Charter for Compassion International in both the “Peace and Nonviolence” and “Education” sectors, is unaffiliated to any religious or political organization. In addition to collecting and sharing real-life stories, The Forgiveness Project has a wider goal of promoting alternatives to violence and revenge and is active in prisons, in communities and with training programs.
Marina Cantacuzino’s new book, “The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age” was published by Jessica Kingsley in March 2015 with forewords by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and author, Alexander McCall Smith.
Today, we will also hear from Louisa Hext, the North American Coordinator for “The F Word: Images of Forgiveness” traveling art exhibition. This powerful exhibit can be hired and brought to your community. In addition to the art exhibit, a speakers bureau and associated programming is available. Louisa also serves as the lead volunteer for the “Peace and Non Violence” sector with the Charter for Compassion International.
After Marina’s presentation, we’re going to break into groups for about 20 minutes to discuss aspects of Marina’s talk and then rejoin as a full group so that you can ask questions directly of Marina. Welcome Marina.
Today I want to share with you something about what I’ve learned from writing my book “The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age” and from the work I’ve done for the past 11 years. This book grew out of the organization I founded in 2004 called “The Forgiveness Project”. The book consists of two Forewords, an introductory essay by me, and forty stories. Today I’m going to share some of what I explore in the book, some of my learning through immersing myself in the subject through the real stories of victims and perpetrators.
The story of how “The Forgiveness Project” (TFP) started.
I have Tony Blair to thank for propelling me along this path. In February 2003 I went on the ‘Stop the War’ march in London’s Hyde Park (which coincided with many such marches in cities around the world) where between one and two million people tried to convince our then Prime Minister that invading Iraq was not something that the British people wanted. ‘NOT IN OUR NAME!’ screamed the placards and yelled the protestors. Common sense told me that the harder you come down on an individual, or group, or country, the more likely people are to reorganize and emerge in a toughened and more resistant way. Tony Blair heard the public outcry but he did not listen. The march had no impact whatsoever other than to motivate and mobilize people like me. From that moment on I felt compelled to do whatever I could to present the counter- argument more vividly and more forcefully.
The overpowering sense of impotence and frustration I felt at a war I was sure would only create further bloodshed and fuel yet more violent extremism, meant that I was determined now to start collecting the personal narratives of people whose response to being harmed was not a call for revenge but rather a quest for restoration and healing.
I was looking for evidence. I wanted to find examples of parents who had forgiven their child’s killer, victims who had met their attacker, former perpetrators of violence who had transformed their aggression into a force for peace. So in the course of a year and alongside my career as a journalist and with my mate as a photographer, I embarked on a personal and private project to collect stories. And along the way, while in South Africa, I even met Desmond Tutu who gave his backing to the project and eventually became the Founding Patron.
I wanted people’s own voices to be heard because I have come to believe that hardened attitudes and fixed perspectives can only shift when we hear the stories of others, the real personal experience.
The following quote seems to me eminently true: A story told at the right time in someone’s life can shine a light sufficiently bright to illuminate the way ahead on the map of life.
During these early months of story-collecting I began to understand several key things about this enthralling and contentious subject of forgiveness. I could see how potent it was as a means to healing, but also I could see that forgiveness was a direction rather than a destination, a difficult process in the course of which one day you might forgive and the next day hate all over again. Above all, it clearly meant different things to different people and provoked strong reactions in just about everyone. There were those who thought it was a noble and humbling response to harm and there were those who dismissed it as a useless gesture only serving to magnify the harm done. Hence, the “F word” became the title of the exhibition.
In short, forgiveness seemed to inspire and affront in equal measure, and was extremely tricky.
In January 2004, with the war in Iraq still a topic of fierce debate, these narratives of hope went on display as an exhibition at the Oxo Gallery on London’s South Bank for ten days. The response was both extensive and astonishing. Six thousand people saw the exhibition, we sold out of two thousand printed catalogues within a few days, the media were hungry for the story (coverage reaching 30 million people worldwide) and organizations and individuals all over the globe contacted me to ask if they could use ‘The F Word’ as a resource for their own peace and conflict resolution work. Many visitors left powerful messages in the feedback book asking, ‘What next?’ One woman wrote candidly: ‘Now I would like to be photographed next to the man who attacked me.’ I was overwhelmed; nothing I’d written about in my many years as a journalist had grabbed the public’s attention like this. With the insurgency in post-invasion Iraq now already a mounting problem, these stories seemed to tap into an urgent public need for alternative and peaceful responses to violence.
I had had no idea that exploring the subject of forgiveness through personal stories would have such an impact, nor that being exposed to other people’s healing narratives would stimulate visitors’ own personal inquiry. From that moment on, the subject of forgiveness – with all its nuanced, layered, complex, simple and lucent interpretations – would not leave me alone.
The F Word’ exhibition became a space of inquiry, a conversation about forgiveness and revenge, compassion and empathy, a place not to promote forgiveness as the only way to heal past wounds, but rather to explore its limits and possibilities through individual personal experience. The stories reflected the complex, intriguing and deeply personal nature of forgiveness, providing a vehicle for analysis and inspiration rather than dogma or the need to fix. The narratives themselves had no neat ends and some interviewees proved to be resistant to the very term ‘forgiveness’ despite the fact that their actions seemed driven by an entirely forgiving response.
The success of the exhibition meant that, later that year, I founded The Forgiveness Project, a United Kingdom (UK) charity and not-for-profit organization that sets out through storytelling to explore how ideas around forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution can be used to impact positively on people’s lives, through the personal testimonies of both victims and perpetrators of crime and violence. In an era of mounting sectarianism and religious fundamentalism, my main aim was to give people an appetite for tolerance. Nowadays we put on events, e.g. the annual lecture given by a prominent speaker. The exhibition has been hired out in 500 venues, 15 countries to 65,000 people, and speakers from our Speakers Bureau with transformative narratives go in and share their story in schools. We also deliver an award-winning and well-evidenced restorative justice program in prison in the UK which is facilitated by both victims of crime and ex-offenders.
The stories form the basis of everything we do (which is why the book is largely made up of stories). In the end, while not everyone who features in the exhibition has forgiven, everyone is in no doubt that revenge only fuels further fear and violence. The protagonists have all used their agony as a spur for positive change.
For instance, Rami Elhanan (seen here on the left), is a member of the Israeli/Palestinian peace organization The Parents Circle. He says of the suicide bomber who killed his daughter in a Jerusalem market in 1997: ‘I don’t forgive and I don’t forget…but the suicide bomber was a victim, just like my daughter, grown crazy out of anger and shame.’ I’ve also heard him say many times that the only way to change the endless cycle of violence ‘is the ability to listen to the pain of the other’. Everything about this man is about denying the rhetoric of black-and-white thinking and about reducing fear and hate through humanizing ‘the enemy’. And yet he is resistant to boxing his experience into one of forgiving.
If you Google ‘forgiveness’, or have it as a search feed on Twitter, you will find a nonstop stream of references to it as a religious concept, an over-sentimentalized virtue, or a metaphysical gift. The challenge is (I find this a big challenge for me), how can we change the language and make the act of forgiving meaningful to those who feel they are drowning in a syrupy pool of stagnant dogma?
From the beginning I felt it was essential that the stories were not excessively faith-focused because there seemed a need to free forgiveness from the straitjacket of religion, to make it accessible to people of all faiths as well as those of none. Of course, the Christian perspective of forgiveness, and of any other religion for that matter, is an important part of the bigger picture, but for too long forgiveness has been unhelpfully linked to ideals of self-abnegation as well as heroic endurance. This means it easily takes on this sacred ‘other’ quality that detracts from the up-down-backwards- forwards-inside-outside-on-off quality it has in reality. I have come to believe that while forgiving has a very real spiritual dimension (because self-reflection and being consciously compassionate are key to the process), it is not necessarily a religious experience.
Also I am wary of those who promote forgiveness as a cure-all or duty, as well as the idea that if you can’t forgive you will be depleted in some way. It puts an obligation around something that must surely only ever be a choice and which cannot be prescribed or regulated.
Everything I’ve learned about this thorny subject of forgiveness has come from the people who have generously shared their stories with me from 2003 to the present day. These 140-plus stories now feature on The Forgiveness Project website, attracting 500 visitors a day from all corners of the world.
Khaled al-Berry articulated the reason why I am so reluctant to nail things down and fix them. As a former member of the radical Islamist Egyptian group al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, Khaled eventually moved away from the movement, coming to an important realization that ‘the most dangerous thing in life is to let people become convinced that truth has just one face’. His memoir “Life is More Beautiful than Paradise” provides a rare and valuable insight into how easily the young idealist can become radicalized by sects who believe that their truth is absolute. This is a highly poignant story which could not be more salient at a time when “us versus them” rhetoric increasingly clouds complex conflicts.
Jo Berry articulated beautifully an integral component of forgiveness: empathy – the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, no matter how dirty or ill-fitting they may be. She told me how she was finally able to reach a point where she could say about the former IRA activist responsible for her father’s murder in the Brighton bombing in 1984: ‘If I had lived your life, perhaps I would have made your choices.’
Arno Michaelis helped me to realize that it was somehow limiting when people said genuine forgiveness had to be earned and deserved (through remorse and apology) because he showed me that unconditional forgiveness from victims could in fact rehabilitate the offender. Once a white supremacist responsible for countless acts of violence, Arno was still full of hate when some of those he reviled showed him compassion. It is interesting in the way that empathy (even undeserved) can change things. Now he believes:
‘Forgiveness is a sublime example of humanity, I explore at every opportunity, because it was the unconditional forgiveness I was given by people whom I once claimed to hate that demonstrated for me the way from there to here.’
Ginn & Letlapa
Letlapa Mphahlele summed up for me why an eye for an eye simply cannot work. Letlapa was the former Director of operations of the military wing of the South African Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) during the apartheid era. His justification for using violence in the struggle against apartheid started to shift when many years later he met the mother of one of his victims, Ginn Fourie. He explains: ‘I believed that terror had to be answered with terror, and I authorized high-profile massacres on white civilians in the same way that our oppressors had done to us. At the time it seemed the only valid response. But where would it have ended? If my enemies had been cannibals, would I have eaten white flesh? If my enemies had raped black women, would I have raped white women?’
One of the reasons forgiveness is so tricky is that some wrongdoers seem so entirely undeserving of it. How do we talk of forgiveness in relation to these grand-scale atrocities where the human capacity for evil seems limitless? It’s best to look at those who have done it. I think forgiveness looks something like what Marian Partington describes in her deliberations around forgiving serial killer Rosemary West for the excessively brutal murder of her sister. After hearing Rosemary West give evidence at the trial in 1995, Marian says: ‘Her story seems to be about the impoverishment of a soul that knew no other way to live than through terrible cruelty.’ For Marian, forgiveness begins with a commitment to recognize Rosemary West’s humanity as well as a refusal to demonize her.
In this sense, forgiveness is not about excusing people or condoning the act, but about embracing human frailty and fallibility and taking responsibility for a society we may have helped to create. It has the same meaning as the word “Ubuntu” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_%28philosophy%29). Marian likes to talk about compassionate understanding instead of forgiveness.
Andrea LeBlanc’s husband was killed when the second plane was flown into the World Trade Center in 2001 (you see here the memorial at the Tribute Centre where the twin towers once stood). She is a founding member of “September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows” and has tried to reframe our thinking about evil acts by suggesting that each one of us may have a part to play. Responding to the savage shootings of 20 young children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, Andrea wrote: ‘There are no words that will assuage the victims’ families’ grief…the wounds will remain.’ But she said: ‘We need to understand that the gunman and his family are victims too. Perhaps victims of the society we have responsibility for.’
Phyllis & Aicha
Phyllis Rodriguez, whose son was killed when the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001, was asked on a radio program how she felt towards Zacarias Moussaoui who had recently been charged with conspiracy in connection with the atrocity, she said: ‘If empathy means seeing him as a fallible human being who’s capable of evil and capable of good – yes, then sure I have empathy for this man, because I believe under the right circumstances I’m also capable of evil.’
I profoundly agree with the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956 in which the Russian writer and dissident gives a striking explanation of why we prefer not to take responsibility for humanity’s most heinous crimes:
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Breakout Groups (CLUSTERS of 3 or 4, one a facilitator)
Reed Price: Thank you so much Marina for your inspiring presentation. Now we will break out into groups to discuss specific questions. There are 5 groups. You can select the group you want by pressing your keypad.
Breakout Groups and Questions:
- Does seeking to understand wrong-doers help to condone harm and make violence more palatable? (Barbara Kaufmann)
- Does true forgiveness require remorse? Or is forgiveness primarily an act of self-healing? (Barbara Kerr)
- Can you forgive on behalf of another person, for instance for a child who has been harmed? (Lesa Walker)
- Why is it sometimes harder to forgive the bigger wrongs of strangers than the smaller wrongs of loved ones? (Louisa Hext)
- “The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgement." said Krishnamurti, Why is self-forgiveness often the hardest form of forgiveness?
Group 1: Barbara Kaufmann Facilitator
Question: Does seeking to understand wrong-doers help to condone harm and make violence more palatable?
“The ability to stand in someone else’s shoes no matter how dirty or ill-filling they may be.
“Violence is an impoverishment of the soul.”
It is short sighted and a false premise to suggest that an attempt should not be made to understand the position and philosophy or wrong-doers.
When we don’t understand the context of the violence and we respond with violence, we escalate and perpetuate the problem. It has been said that a violent act echoes through 3 generations.
Perpetuating violence results in the prison industrial complex, profiteering by companies who trade in violence, bullying, and skewed political positions.
Unraveling peace is unraveling oppression: for example, racism, bullying, where and how our clothes are made, etc. And asking: ‘how do we live in this world? Who are we complicit in oppressing?’
Reconciliation programs- Truth and reconciliation committees are in the business of repairing violence while considering the context of the conflict. Dividing people up by ‘who is the bad guy; who is the good guy?’ is not useful. American foreign policy has this tendency.
Violence is sometimes motivated by profit: The arms trade has become a beast-because it’s violence perpetuated by profit. Mercenary soldiers and outsourcing war to corporations feed from that same kind of profit.
When considering forgiveness there is the Institutional and personal and some of us struggle to put personal together with institutional or political forgiveness. For example, how do you forgive misguided administrations who seemed to favor violence and war over diplomacy?
The debate about forgiveness is really about oppression. There is oppression in systems, institutions, and structures. It’s hard to talk about forgiveness because of all the oppression. When there is wrong being done, you have to shout loud; it was silence that allowed the Third Reich to build death camps. We choose in all the possible narratives. The victim does not have a choice initially; the perpetrator has a choice. Violence is a cycle. It’s important to know how and when to fight evil. We default often to aggression, anger and violence, but that makes us no better than our perpetrators. People do have a right to self-defend but there are many ways to self-defend without violence. It has been proven that collective non-violent resistance has been significantly effective. For example you can always see genocide coming; non-violent resistance is a necessary response.
Group 2: Barbara Kerr Facilitator
Question: Does true forgiveness require remorse? Or is forgiveness primarily an act of self-healing?
One question that comes with forgiveness—whether it takes the other person who you are forgiving to acknowledge or whether I can forgive on my own—whether in a private setting or a bigger political setting.
To acknowledge or accept. Perhaps by pulling stories from our own lives, we can answer this question.
Really compelled by this question. In my personal life, I’ve done work with forgiveness—I’m not sure what forgiveness is (even though I have read Marina’s book). In my personal life—some people I’ve wanted to forgive have either passed away or I’m not in relationship with them.
Another question: Both people can be uplifted in the end. If you forgive “too quickly”. . . is there an earning of forgiveness? Do all the situations have to end in forgiveness?
What does forgiveness mean? I’ve done some forgiveness work with people from family of origin—from whom I’m estranged. Does forgiveness require me to be in touch with that person?
In the act of forgiveness—asking for forgiveness or working toward forgiveness— what if the person on the receiving end is never quite certain? In the act of forgiveness, a communion of sorts occurs—people come together.
What keeps coming up for me—worrying about whether the forgiveness is received or accepted. Sometimes the person being forgiven doesn’t even know.
Perhaps the first step of forgiveness is to forgive self and then go into dialogue with person you want to ask forgiveness of.
I’ve always felt it has to start with self—like compassion for self.
Is it enough to forgive ourselves?
Both in self-forgiving and in the process of forgiveness – you have to put yourself at the center for both. We are not giving a gift—we are doing it just for ourselves.
Group 3: No one signed up for this breakout group.
Group 4: Louisa Hext Facilitator
Question: Why is it sometimes harder to forgive the bigger wrongs of strangers than the smaller wrongs of loved ones?
We spent most of the time in the breakout group talking about the Charter for Compassion International and The Forgiveness Project in general. Carol is from Nashville and a retired psychiatrist with an interest in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) (Dr. Marshall Rosenberg). Carol talked about the lack of compassion in the mental health-care profession. Carol expressed her interest in bringing The F Word to Nashville and has attended one Compassionate Nashville event.
Group 5: Reed Price Facilitator
Question: “The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgement." said Krishnamurti. Why is self-forgiveness often the hardest form of forgiveness?
Our group discussed how to cope with self-forgiveness, which all participants agreed is very challenging.
One participant observed that she believes that declining to forgive adds to the violence of the world and said she has found it very helpful to think about forgiveness as peace – and that focusing on self-forgiveness is bringing peace into the world.
Another person said she struggles with being self-forgiving – but tries to engage that attitude/stance through prayer, mediation, journal, exercise, self-care, nutrition, stress-management.
One participant also noted that using self-talk can be a winner and a loser. Sometimes it bites as well as heals.
Another person shared that self-preservation is a challenge that gets in the way of forgiveness. We need to be vulnerable to be able to forgive ourselves.
One person suggested that compassion is a means to forgiveness – a process. In the later discussion, Marina said forgiveness and compassion are related, but in her experience there’s no process – it’s all a complex and mixed-up soup.
Key Reference Information from the Breakout Groups
Louise Taverner shared the following:
Here are two links from references I cited in our break-out session today.
First, "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan
"For more than a century, from 1900 to 2006, campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts in achieving their stated goals. By attracting impressive support from citizens, whose activism takes the form of protests, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other forms of nonviolent noncooperation, these efforts help separate regimes from their main sources of power and produce remarkable results, even in Iran, Burma, the Philippines, and the Palestinian Territories.
Combining statistical analysis with case studies of specific countries and territories, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan detail the factors enabling such campaigns to succeed and, sometimes, causing them to fail. They find that nonviolent resistance presents fewer obstacles to moral and physical involvement and commitment, and that higher levels of participation contribute to enhanced resilience, greater opportunities for tactical innovation and civic disruption (and therefore less incentive for a regime to maintain its status quo), and shifts in loyalty among opponents' erstwhile supporters, including members of the military establishment.
Chenoweth and Stephan conclude that successful nonviolent resistance ushers in more durable and internally peaceful democracies, which are less likely to regress into civil war. Presenting a rich, evidentiary argument, they originally and systematically compare violent and nonviolent outcomes in different historical periods and geographical contexts, debunking the myth that violence occurs because of structural and environmental factors and that it is necessary to achieve certain political goals. Instead, the authors discover, violent insurgency is rarely justifiable on strategic grounds."
The second is a quote, “It takes four generations to recover from every act of violence,” by Rebecca Adamson. Adamson is an American Cherokee businessperson and advocate. She is former director, former president, and founder of First Nations Development Institute and the founder of First Peoples Worldwide. Rebecca Adamson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Questions & Answers
Reed Price: Thank you very much everyone for your participation in these conversations. Now, we’re interested in hearing your feedback and observations from your breakout groups and your questions for Marina. Please raise your hand by pressing “1” on your phone or Skype keypads to be recognized.
We are going to start our open discussion period by inviting Louisa Hext, the North American Coordinator for “The F Word” exhibit.
Louisa Hext: Hi everyone. It is an absolute privilege to listen to Marina speak today. Over the last three years, I’ve been working in North America (the US and Canada) to share The Forgiveness Project by bringing “The F Word” exhibit to places. I am the point person if you have interest in hiring the exhibit and have ways to continue the story and share the journey. The exhibit is absolutely beautiful and easy to manage and quite affordable. Reach out to me through the Charter for Compassion International (the “Peace & Non-Violence” sector) or through The Forgiveness Project itself. The exhibit has 3 X 6 ft. banners. They are beautiful and made of fabric. Also, it would be wonderful if all of you would share information about Marina’s new book. You can take sneak peak on Amazon. I had a small breakout group with only 1 other person, however, we had an incredible experience discussing forgiveness with one another. I would like to have Marina to respond to why is it sometimes harder to forgive the smaller wrongs of loved ones than the bigger wrongs of strangers.
Marina: Being hurt by a loved one often brings more intense pain than being wronged by someone we don’t know so well and that we don’t expect to care about us.
Reed Price: We had a breakout group talking about self-forgiveness. We found the challenge of the language of the word forgiveness. Perhaps using the word compassion would help us discuss the forgiveness journey.
Marina: Forgiveness is a movement of compassion. Forgiveness can be letting go and moving on. Forgiveness means having a degree of compassionate empathy. For the self, forgiveness is self-compassion. Only if you have self-compassion can you have compassion for others.
Reed: Another person in our group noted that one way to address the challenge of self-forgiveness is to visualize that the lack of forgiveness contributes to violence, whereas forgiveness brings peace.
Barbara Kaufmann: We had someone in our group who is a Quaker which was interesting due to the context of non-violence. She brought up that if we continue with the violence then we are no better than the perpetrator. If we all responded with non-violent resistance, then we could have a strong impact. We can all see genocide coming. The question I have is the following: Truth and reconciliation programs can be very effective. When violence is first perpetrated there is a lot of anger. What is the process that gets people from anger to forgiveness and reconciliation?
Marina: Anger is hugely important because it is a kind of necessary rage. The problem is when you get stuck in the rage and hate. There comes a re-storying, a re-framing of the narrative of the harm. People can reach a place of compassion and empathy and somehow turn a page so that the pain of the past does not dictate the future. Forgiveness can be triggered by an encounter, an event. People may reach rock-bottom and decide they need to do something differently. It can be a decision, as simple as that.
Mary Ella: I want to share an important thing happening. I am in Ottawa. We are in the middle of sharing events around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s look at what happened to the indigenous peoples in the schools, etc. Although the government had an official apology a year ago, it did not go far enough. The ability to share stories and for people to hear and understand the depth of what people went through , helps people move forward and take action to address the needs of the indigenous peoples. This experience has been strikingly powerful.
Louisa: I am looking at the way I respond to people. The challenge in talking about in the global perspective is one thing. When I think of forgiveness through my own personal lens, it becomes more challenging. From Marina, I’ve learned that the path to forgiveness is not a destination, it is a journey. I learned from Shannon Moroney that there is a cycle: unforgiving, then re-forgiving, then unforgiving. Along the way, there are struggles.
Carol Paris: When I think about times when I’ve been challenged with the need to forgive, I want certainty, clarity, and for things not to be messy. I’ve learned from Marina that forgiveness can be difficult. When I feel most vulnerable, it is perhaps the best time to open myself up to be even more vulnerable. Do you think it is necessary to be more vulnerable?
Marina: Yes, most definitely. James Baldwin said: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
In reality we are most human in that state of pain. It is where we do the most learning. It is the messy part of forgiveness. There is sometimes a feeling of loss in forgiveness. Also, I was reading about how apology makes it easier to forgive because the perpetrator offers up their vulnerability.
Reed: This is a lovely observation about vulnerability. It is our desire to avoid pain that can lock us.
Sommer: I was privileged recently to view “Restoration of the Spirit” – a documentary put together by native tribes to show forgiveness to the white man for taking over their territory. It was moving to see the power of their forgiveness as a nation.
Marina: I got a lot out of my breakout group (re: Does forgiveness help to condone harm?). We talked about forgiveness in political discourse.
Forgiveness is a movement of compassion. Thank you.
Reed Price: Thank you Marina. Also, for those of you in the UK, I want to make sure that you are aware that The Forgiveness Project has announced its 5th Annual Lecture, to take place on the evening of the 23rd June, at The Royal Geographical Society. This year the main speaker will be Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s most thought-provoking and original public thinkers on the role of religion in historical and contemporary life and the inspiration for the Charter for Compassion International. You can learn more about the lecture on the Charter’s website and get tickets at The Forgiveness Project. You can also find out more about Marina’s new book. Thank you again, Marina. We all found this time very valuable.
Marilyn: This was a wonderful call. Thank you, Marina. We appreciate the technical support of Mary Ella Keblusek, Reed Price, and Ben Roberts. These stories of forgiveness are challenges to us- to think about our responsibility to ourselves and to the other. Many do not realize the necessity of forgiveness. Thank you, Marina, for helping us realize the links between forgiveness, empathy, and compassion.
These calls are sponsored by the Charter for Compassion International. You can learn more at http://charterforcompassion.org. We hope you become a member of the Charter. And, we welcome your help, not just monetary help. We are looking for volunteers. We would love to have people who love to write. We want much more exposure of our partners and community endeavors throughout the world. If you have interest, just drop us a line. The Charter offers these conference calls for free, but we welcome donations. We’ll send a link to our donation page in the follow-up email that will also include URLs mentioned today and notes of the call. The notes should be out in about 48 hours.
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Marilyn Turkovich: Thanks everyone. Our next call is in mid-June. Stay tuned for announcements in our Charter newsletter.